World·Analysis

Competing town halls give U.S. voters a chance to judge Trump and Biden in isolation

After a cacophonous debacle in the first presidential debate, American voters were given a chance on Thursday to watch, without interruption, the candidates vying for high office.

After chaotic 1st debate and cancelled 2nd, candidates held their own prime-time events on competing networks

Joe Biden and Donald Trump each had their own prime-time slot in town hall events on competing television networks on Thursday. (Evan Vucci, Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

After a cacophonous debacle in the first presidential debate, American voters were given a chance on Thursday to watch, without interruption, the candidates vying for high office.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump each had their own prime-time slot in town hall events on competing television networks.

The bizarre scene was triggered by an unusual turn of events, featuring a dispute over the debate format precipitated by Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis two weeks ago.

It gave the frontrunner, Biden, a chance to speak at unimpeded length in a way he simply couldn't in the first, insult-heavy, idea-light showdown with Trump.

And, with just three weeks to go before the Nov. 3 election, it may have delivered a late-campaign blow to a central Trump message about the frailty of Biden's mental faculties.

The Democratic nominee was pressed on controversial topics, such as whether he would stop fossil-fuel fracking or start expanding the Supreme Court.

Biden's answers: No and maybe.

WATCH | Biden responds to question about restoring civility:

Democratic presidential candidate says he will reach across the political aisle to work with Republicans if he wins the election. 1:36

He said he favours a shift to clean energy, but at a manageable pace, with hundreds of billions in incentives for green-infrastructure projects.

Biden said some progressive proposals to eliminate carbon emissions in power generation by 2030 are not possible: "You can't get there," he said. "You're going to need to be able to transition." 

On the Supreme Court, the former vice-president hinted that he's been dangling the possibility of packing the bench with new justices as a leverage play.

He said he was withholding his answer until Republicans decide whether to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and guaranteed that he would share a clearer policy with voters before election day.

Biden noted that other options exist for altering the balance of the Supreme Court. (They include term limits or rotating judges between courts).  

He said he's skeptical of simply adding new judges, as it would provoke continual battles over the court size.

WATCH | Biden won't say if he'll expand the Supreme Court:

Joe Biden declined to say what, if any, action he would take if a conservative majority is cemented by Trump's latest appointment to the Supreme Court. 1:10

"I have not been a fan of court-packing," he said. But in one of his lengthier answers, involving racial inequity, Biden rattled off a series of numbers and planks from his platform.

He proposed tripling the funding for poorer schools so that they might offer teachers $60,000 salaries; he alluded to a stat that the ratio of school psychologists to students should be lowered from one per 1,400 students, to one per 500; he talked about business-administration loans and a $15,000 first-time homebuyers' plan to help families accumulate wealth.

WATCH | Biden defends his tax plan:

Former vice-president cites Wall Street firm to defend raising taxes on the wealthy. 1:18

After that monologue, the town-hall moderator, ABC's George Stephanopoulos, turned to the young audience member who asked the question: "Did you hear what you needed to hear?" 

The young man said: "I think so." Then Biden kept talking, and talked some more with audience members after the show was over, milling about and taking questions off the air.

Biden promised not to hold grudges against political opponents, and promised to govern for all Americans.

"In politics, grudges don't work," Biden said, calling insults a recipe for inaction in trying to pass laws on Capitol Hill. "You can't get anywhere. Nothing happens."

WATCH | Trump is asked about the rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett on the U.S. Supreme Court:

NBC Town Hall moderator Savannah Guthrie asks Donald Trump if he will denounce white supremacy, suggesting he is often hesitant to do so. 2:59

Trump questioned about QAnon

Trump was on another network, NBC. 

The president cited fewer statistics, but did repeat a misinterpreted claim about the alleged danger of mask-wearing, which his own Centers For Disease Control said was wrong.

Trump was asked whether he would denounce the QAnon conspiracy theories. 

The moderator, Savannah Guthrie, asked: "It is this theory that Democrats are a Satanic pedophile ring. And that you are the saviour. Can you just, once and for all, state that is completely not true?" 

Trump said he knew nothing about QAnon, then added: "I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard." 

  • What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Your questions help inform our coverage. Email us at Ask@cbc.ca

When asked whether he denounced white supremacy, a matter of some controversy in the first debate, Trump replied with annoyance. 

"You always do this," he told Guthrie.

"I denounce white supremacy. OK? ... I denounce white supremacy. I have, for years."

WATCH | Trump asked again about white supremacy:

A voter asks Donald Trump to explain why the Republicans blocked Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee eight months before the end of his term but are allowing Trump's nominee weeks before the election.  3:01

He promised to have a plan soon for undocumented young migrants living in legal limbo and another to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions, if Obamacare gets struck down by the Supreme Court.

There is no plan yet.

Trump doesn't have a 2020 election platform per se. He says he'll just keep doing what he's been doing.

Asked at the end why he deserves four more years, he mentioned the low unemployment, strong economic growth before the pandemic, stronger borders and increased military spending.

"Because I've done a great job," he said.

WATCH | Trump is asked about recent revelations in the New York Times about his level of debt:

NBC Town Hall moderator Savannah Guthrie asks Donald Trump whether he is in fact more than $400 million in debt, and to whom he owes money. 2:47

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now