Pandemic dominates dueling TV events with Trump and Biden

The US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden held rival televised town halls on Thursday, forcing voters to choose who to watch after the second presidential debate was cancelled, news wires reported. Both candidates were questioned on aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has become a key issue during the campaign and shows the differences and disagreements between them.

When asked if his opinion on wearing masks has changed since his coronavirus diagnosis, Trump said no, adding that he supports masks but then falsely claiming that 85% of mask-wearers are infected with the virus.

Biden used his event to attack the president on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, while pitching himself as the president who will unite the country after a divisive four years under Trump.

The Senate confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee for a vacant Supreme Court seat, prompted careful answers from both candidates. Republicans have pushed to seat Barrett before the election after refusing to do so for former Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016, saying it was inappropriate in an election year.

Biden said he was not a “fan” of court-packing, the idea promoted by some Democrats of adding justices to countermand what they view as a stolen seat. But he declined to rule it out after the moderator pressed him, saying: “It depends on how this turns out.”

During his event broadcast on NBC Trump was then asked about his personal debt, which is a staggering 421 million dollars, according to a report in The New York Times. Trump dismissed the report, but then appeared to confirm the number, saying that his debt is a "small percentage" compared to his net worth.

The president's town hall was scheduled after he declined to participate in the second presidential debate after it was moved to a virtual event due to his coronavirus diagnosis.

The presidential rivals took questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. The town halls offered a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters, after the pair held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month.

A second and final presidential debate is scheduled for 22 October, less than two weeks before the election on 3 November.

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