WASHINGTON – United States President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden held on Thursday dueling, simultaneous televised town hall events, replacing what was supposed to be a second face-to-face debate.
That second debate was canceled when Trump refused to participate remotely after becoming infected with COVID-19 just two weeks ago and being hospitalized for three days.
Biden’s campaign was quick to announce that instead of the debate, the Democrat would hold a town hall meeting with voters on ABC. Two days ago, NBC counter-programmed it with Trump, something that a good number of its own journalists have criticized.
In battleground state Pennsylvania, the Democrat answered questions about the pandemic and left the door open to a mandate for all Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19, although he admitted that would it would be impossible to enforce.
“If the scientist – if the body of science is saying that this is what is ready to be done and they’re – it’s been tested and they’ve gone through the three phases; yes, I would take it and I’d encourage people to take it,” Biden said.
“It depends on the state of the nature of the vaccine when it comes out and how it’s being distributed (…) we should be thinking about making it mandatory,” the Democrat said.
But when asked if he would make it mandatory, he replied: “Well, you couldn’t. That’s the problem (…) you can’t say, everyone has to do this.”
However, the former vice president of Barack Obama said that if he reaches the White House, he will pressure governors, mayors and other local authorities to ask their constituents to get vaccinated.
The cancellation of the second debate was beneficial for Biden as it avoided a more than likely another chaotic confrontation with the president, who seeks to demonstrate that his 77-year-old Democratic rival is no longer lucid enough to lead.
Instead, Biden was able to focus on responding without getting into too much controversy with voters in Pennsylvania, his home state and one of the three – along with Wisconsin and Michigan – that in 2016 gave Trump the keys to the White House.
What Biden did commit to was to announce before the elections if he plans to expand the Supreme Court now that the Conservatives would consolidate their majority with the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, a question that his refusal so far to answer is haunting him during the campaign.
Biden and his campaign, however, are aware that early voting has skyrocketed in 2020, and that fewer people are left to go to the polls with each passing day.
Trump’s town hall on NBC was not as placid as Biden’s and turned into a confrontation with the moderator, journalist Savannah Guthrie.
The president refused to condemn the conspiracy theory network QAnon, avoided taking responsibility for his retweets with such theories (“people can decide for themselves”) and claimed that his management of the pandemic has “saved 2 million people.”
All this caused him to clash with Guthrie, who is also a lawyer, in an event that the president had anticipated as a “set-up” by the chain.
Guthrie also touched on a question that has chased Trump for days and that both he and the White House have refused to answer: “When was your last negative (COVID-19) test?”
The answer would clarify whether the president underwent a test on the day of the first presidential debate – Sept. 29, 48 hours before his diagnosis – as required by the event protocols.
“I don’t know, I don’t even remember. I test all the time,” Trump replied, further fueling suspicions that he participated in the debate while infected.
The two candidates have pledged to participate in what was to be the third and last presidential debate, which will take place next Thursday, less than two weeks before the elections, in Nashville, Tennessee.