Trump, Biden Clash Over Virus in Dueling TV Town Hall Events

imagePolitics8 hours ago (Oct 15, 2020 08:45PM ET)


(Bloomberg) — Democrat Joe Biden faulted Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus in one televised town hall while the president continued to question the effectiveness of masks in another forum on another network.

“It is the presidential responsibility to lead and he didn’t do that,” Biden said Thursday night on ABC from Philadelphia.

Trump at almost the same moment said he’d done an “amazing job” managing the pandemic but continued to question the use of masks, which are endorsed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the virus.

“We saved 2 million people,” Trump said on NBC in Miami. He said he doesn’t have a problem with wearing masks but that “people with masks are catching it all the time.”

The dueling appearances are making for one of the stranger moments of the 2020 campaign, fracturing television viewership as the candidates deliver their messages without the added tension and drama of a debate.

Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 217,000 in the U.S. and left millions infected, has met with disapproval from an increasing number of voters, polls show.

The president has downplayed the threat posed by the virus, touting an experimental antibody treatment he received while hospitalized for it and saying social-distancing measures advocated by Democrats did more harm than good.

The two candidates originally were supposed to debate Thursday night. Instead of sparring with each other over topics such as the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and health care, the town hall format gave the candidates a less contentious opportunity to lay out their positions, and engage one-on-one with voters about issues they care about.

Trump backed out of the originally scheduled town hall format debate after his campaign rejected revised plans by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates for the candidates to appear remotely due to his infection with Covid-19. The campaign insisted that the president and his aides, a number of whom have also tested positive for coronavirus, posed no health risk.

NBC’s decision to air Trump’s town hall at the same time as Biden’s drew criticism from a group of more than 100 actors, writers and producers who complained in a letter to Comcast Corp (NASDAQ:CMCSA). and NBCUniversal, calling it “a disservice to the American public.”

“We believe this kind of indifference to the norms and rules of our democracy are what have brought our country to this perilous state,” according to the letter, signed by director J.J. Abrams, actor Jon Hamm and writer-director Aaron Sorkin.

NBC said its decision to air the Trump town hall at the same time Biden’s began was out of a desire for “fairness” after hosting Biden in that hour last week.

“If we were to move our town hall with President Trump to a later time slot we would be violating our commitment to offer both campaigns access to the same audience and the same forum,” NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde said in a statement.

With 19 days until the election, early voting is already underway in two dozen states. In-person and mail-in voting are surpassing records amid concerns about Covid-19 transmission at polling places and what strategists in both parties say is heightened interest in the race.

(C)2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Trump, Biden Clash Over Virus in Dueling TV Town Hall Events

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