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In competing town halls, Trump defends efforts on coronavirus, Biden still unclear on court packing

Biden wasn't asked about arguably the biggest headline of the week, emails that appear to shed more light on son Hunter's overseas deals and Biden's possible connection.

Updated: October 15, 2020 - 11:32pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook





President Trump's televised town hall Thursday night got off to a rocky start when NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie questioned the president on whether he takes adequate coronavirus precautions and on his condemnation of white supremacists – marking a decidedly different tone than Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden's simultaneous TV event.

“I denounced white supremacy for years but you always do it, you always start off with the question," Trump told Guthrie and the Miami event. "You didn’t ask Joe Biden whether or not he denounces antifa."

“This is a little bit of a dodge,” replied Guthrie, who hosted the event as an alternative to the second presidential debate, scheduled for the same night but canceled after Trump contracted the virus and the campaigns could not agree on a revised format. 

In Philadelphia, Biden was followed by the repeated question about whether he'd add justices to the Supreme Court, if elected.

"It depends," Biden told ABC moderator George Stephanopoulos. He subsequently told Stephanopoulos that he would come out with a plan on so-called "court packing" prior to the election but gave so specifics. 

Biden opened his town hall by restating his plan, if elected, to bring the coronavirus under control – including a "national standard” on coronavirus restrictions. He also argued that Trump didn’t “lead” in the early days of the pandemic.

Both candidate addressed the now, roughly 11-year-old issue of Obamacare, which boldly emerged with the Senate confirmation hearings this week for Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Democrats and others think Barrett will, if confirmed, cast a deciding vote in an upcoming case before the high court on the health care law. 

Biden argued that Trump would attempt to “wipe out” Obamacare at the Supreme Court, a near-certain reference to Barrett, with whose nomination just weeks ago he does not agree.

President Trump also took his turn on Obamacare, vowing to work with Congress to replace the federal law with an improved, more affordable replacement.

"We will always protect people with pre-existing conditions," he said. "We would like to have new health care, much better and much less expensive."

Trump also said he has never spoken with Barrett about the health care law in the courts.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case after the November 3 election.

Trump's opening exchange with Guthrie, before he answered questions from attendees, also included the president saying he supports wearing masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus but arguing that as president his role as a world leader requires him to be visible, which comes with risks.

"I cannot be in a basement," he said, a familiar reference to the 77-year-old Biden who has limited his in-person campaign appearances since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

The opening also included Trump facing repeated questions about the fringe group QAnon. Trump said he understands the group is strongly opposed to pedophilia, a position with which he agrees. But he continued to say he doesn't know much more about the group.