WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) — U.S. President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden held competing town halls at the same time on Thursday night via different TV networks, attacking each other over issues ranging from the pandemic response, the QAnon conspiracy theory to the Supreme Court expanding.
Answering questions from voters at the ABC town hall in Philadelphia, Biden slammed Trump for downplaying the threat of the coronavirus that has infected more than 8 million people and killed 216,000 in the country as of Thursday.
“He (Trump) missed enormous opportunities and kept saying things that weren’t true,” said Biden, calling for a “national standard” to stop the spread of the virus.
“It is the presidential responsibility to lead,” Biden stressed, referring to Trump’s remarks earlier this year that “the governors can do what they need to do; not my responsibility.”
The former vice president said if he wins the White House, he would take a coronavirus vaccine if one became available and would urge governors and local officials to press their constituents to take it as well.
Trump, speaking at an outdoor town hall in Miami aired by NBC News, claimed that he and his administration “have done an amazing job” in combating the virus, sneering at Biden for spending months off the campaign trail as the pandemic went rampant.
“We’re a winner,” the president said. “We have done an amazing job. And it’s rounding the corner. And we have the vaccines coming and we have the therapies coming.”
“Relative to the rest of the world we have the worst death rate,” said moderator Savannah Guthrie.
“I have things right here that will tell you exactly the opposite,” Trump noted.
A new ensemble forecast published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday projects up to 240,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States by Nov. 7. The new cases per day are currently on the rise in 44 states, while deaths per day climb in 30 states, NBC News reported on Thursday.
Trump, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 1, said at the town hall that he couldn’t remember whether he had been tested for the coronavirus on Sept. 29, the day of the first presidential debate.
He also refused to directly answer the question about whether he supported a “herd immunity” strategy to handle the pandemic, which would allow more people to be infected with the virus.
Trump also declined to denounce QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory baselessly claiming Democrats are part of a global pedophile ring among various false accusations.
“I just don’t know about QAnon,” Trump said when Guthrie pressed him on his recent retweeting of a discredited claim by QAnon believers that former President Barack Obama had staged the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Asked whether he supported increasing the number of Supreme Court justices, Biden, for the first time in public, said he will have a clear stance on the issue before the Nov. 3 Election Day, while reiterating that he was “not a fan” of the concept.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in his home state Kentucky on Thursday that the Senate Republicans had enough votes to confirm Trump’s pick, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, to the high court before the Election Day, local media reported.
“I’m open to considering what happens from that point on,” Biden said at the town hall. “Depending on how they (the Republicans) handle this.”
Questioned by a voter about the “hypocrisy” of Republicans moving to confirm a Supreme Court nominee in an election year after refusing to do the same in 2016, Trump made the same argument Democrats made then: presidents are elected “for four years, not for three years.”
Trump nominated Barrett, a 48-year-old conservative federal appellate judge, last month to replace late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a leading liberal voice on the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmation would give the conservative wing a solid 6-3 advantage at the nation’s highest court.
Trump and Biden were originally scheduled to face off on Thursday in Miami at the now-canceled second presidential debate. The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to stage the event virtually after Trump tested positive for coronavirus on Oct. 1, but Trump rejected the arrangement.
Trump is almost certain to score a higher Nielsen rating, an estimate of the total number of viewers for a particular television program, than Biden, since the president’s town hall event will also air on NBC’s sibling cable channels, MSNBC and CNBC, local media reported.
An analysis by the U.S. Elections Project found that at least 18.9 million people across the country have already voted in the 2020 general election as of Thursday night.
A final debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville in the southern U.S. state of Tennessee.