Trump refuses to say if he passed COVID-19 test before first debate with Biden


NEW YORK – US President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden faced, in a way, Thursday night their scuttled second debate replaced by dueling televised town halls that presented striking differences in temperament, views on the racial justice and approaches to the pandemic that reshaped the nation. Trump was on the defensive about his administration of the coronavirus, which cost the lives of more than 215,000 Americans, and evasive when asked whether he had taken a mandatory COVID-19 test before his first debate with Biden. Angry and combative, he refused to denounce the conspiracy group QAnon – and did so only in a testamentary manner against white supremacists.

The president also appeared to admit he was in debt and left open the possibility that part of it was owed to a foreign bank. He insisted that he did not owe money to Russia or a “sinister people” and suggested that $ 400 million in debt was a “very, very small percentage” of the total. its assets.

Biden, appearing nearly 1,200 miles away, denounced the White House’s handling of the virus, saying he was responsible for shutting down a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration in which he served. Although at times vague, he acknowledged that it was a mistake to support a 1994 crime bill that led to an increase in black incarceration and suggested that he would finally clarify his position on the expansion of the Supreme Court if Trump’s presidential candidate was seated prior to election day.

Trump, less than two weeks after being diagnosed with COVID-19, dodged by responding directly if he had taken a test on the day of the debate on September 29, saying only “maybe I did, maybe I didn’t ”. The rules of the debate required every candidate, using the honor system, to test negative before the Cleveland event, but Trump circled around when asked when he last tested negative.

It was his positive test two days later that created Thursday’s bizarre spectacle, which deprived most viewers of a simultaneous glance at the candidates just 19 days before election day. The timing seemed right for a race like no other, as another campaign ritual changed by the pandemic that has rewritten society’s standards.

Presidential rivals asked questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump has backed down from plans for the presidential showdown originally scheduled for the evening after debate organizers said he would virtually stand after his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Town halls have come up with a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters, after the two held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month. The difference in tone of the men was immediate and striking.

Trump was Trump. He was strong and argumentative, fighting with the host, Savannah Guthrie, complaining about the questioning – and ending up saying for the first time that he would honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting doubt extraordinary on the probability of justice.

“And then they talk ‘Will you agree to a peaceful transfer,” Trump said. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, I will’. But I want it to be an honest election, just like everyone else. ”

He again sought to play down revelations from a New York Times investigation that he had more than $ 400 million in debt and suggested the information is false that he paid little or no federal tax on income most years over the past two decades. He insisted that Americans should not be alarmed by his debt and repeatedly insisted that he was “under indebtedness”.

“It’s a small percentage of my net worth,” Trump said of his reported debt. But he left open the possibility that some of his debt was owed to a foreign bank, saying. “No, I don’t owe Russia any money. I have a very, very small, it’s called mortgages. ”

Biden, meanwhile, took a much different and gentler approach to audience questions. The former vice president, who struggled to grow taller with a stutter, stuttered slightly at the start of the program and at one point closed his eyes and slowed his response to spell out his words clearly. Sometimes his answers buzzed.

Dressed in a blue suit and holding a white cloth mask in one hand, the Democratic candidate also brought a small notecard on stage and referred to it while promising to roll back tax cuts for Americans the most rich. He said it would save, as he consulted his notes, “Let me see … $ 92 billion.” ”

Biden has vowed to say before election day whether he will support increasing the number of Supreme Court justices if Democrats win the presidency, Senate and occupy the House after November.

He refused for weeks to answer the question but went further on Thursday night. He said: “I’m still not a fan” of the tribunal’s extension, but that his final decision depended on how Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court “is handled” and “how badly they are. rush that ”.

Biden also criticized Trump’s foreign policy, stating that “America first” made “America alone” “and” this president kisses all the thugs in the world. ” He became introspective when asked what it would say if he lost.

“It could mean I’m a bad candidate, that I didn’t do a good job,” Biden said. “But I think, I hope that doesn’t say that we are as racially, ethnically, and religiously at odds as the president wants us to be. ”

Biden said he plans to participate in the debate next week but will ask Trump to take a COVID-19 test before arriving. “It’s just decency” for everyone around him, including non-candidates like the cameramen, Biden said.

The two are still expected to occupy the same space for a debate for a second and final time next week in Nashville. But the cancellation of Thursday’s debate still impacted both campaigns.

Trump and Biden clashed in Cleveland on Sept. 29 in a debate defined by both the president’s constant harassment of his opponent, which has lowered his support, and his place on the calendar: just two days before Trump announces that he has been tested positive for coronavirus.

Trump was hospitalized for three days, and while recovering in the White House, the debate committee decided to make their second debate distant – which the president immediately rejected.

Lemire reported from New York. Additional reporting by Associated Press editors Bill Barrow in Wilmington, Delaware, and Zeke Miller and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington.


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