Trump to take questions from uncommitted voters in ABC News town hall from Philadelphia

Heidi Gutman/ABCBy LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(PHILADELPHIA) — Exactly seven weeks before Election Day and two weeks before the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump faces uncommitted voters in a 90-minute town hall special hosted by ABC News from the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos will anchor the “20/20” event — “The President and the People” — from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia airing at 9 p.m. ET. The forum provides uncommitted voters, the opportunity to ask the president their questions on issues affecting Americans from the coronavirus pandemic and economic recovery to protests for racial justice and climate change.

ABC News offered to host a similar town hall with Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, but ABC News and the campaign were not able to find a mutually agreeable date.

The “20/20” special event airs from 9 to 10:30 p.m. ET and 8 to 9:30 p.m. CT on ABC and ABC News Live. ABC News Live will also have pre- and post-show coverage for more context and analysis.

ABC News Live is available for streaming on Hulu, The Roku Channel, YouTube TV, Amazon’s news app on Fire tablets and Fire TV devices, Xumo, Sling TV, fuboTV, Facebook, Twitter, ABCNews.com, the ABC News and ABC mobile apps, and standalone ABC News Live apps on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Roku and Apple TV.

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9:31 p.m. Trump refuses to say whether racial injustices are occurring in America

As protests continue for racial justice across the country, Laura Galva of Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, a registered nurse who says she’s always voted Republican for president, invoking the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake, asked Trump if he believes racial injustices are occurring in this nation.

“Well I think they were tragic events, and I do feel that we have to also take into consideration that if you look at our police they do a phenomenal job. You’ll have people choke, make mistakes and they happen, it happens, where they have to make a fast decision and some bad things happen,” Trump said, adding there are “bad apples” but “99%” are “great people.”

“And I will say this, if you’re going to stop crime, we have to give the respect back to the police that they deserve,” he added. “I agree with you, those events are terrible, but we have to allow the police to do their job. Otherwise crime is going to soar.”

Raising the shooting of two sheriff deputies in Los Angeles this week, Trump said the event is an example of “a lack of respect” for law enforcement.

Stephanopoulos also condemned the act before pressing Trump on the fact that Black Americans are more than three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police.

The president wouldn’t say one way or another whether there’s a systematic problem with policing.

“No, I think there’s problems but I also think there’s some very big problems where if you don’t give the police back their authority,” he said.

9:27 p.m. Trump says he ‘up-played’ virus, repeats it’s going to ‘disappear’

A first-time voter asked Trump why he downplayed the pandemic, as he admitted to doing so in audio recordings from interviews with Bob Woodward as to not cause a panic, but Trump rejected the characterization of the question.

“I didn’t downplay it. I, actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action. My action was very strong,” Trump said. “Yeah, because what I did was, with China, I put a ban on. With Europe, I put a ban on and we would have lost thousands of more people had I not put the ban on. So that was called ‘action,’ not with the mouth but in actual fact.”

The first question in tonight’s @abc2020 town hall comes from a 2016 Trump voter who’s diabetic: “I thought you were doing a good job with the pandemic response…then you took your foot off the gas pedal. Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?” pic.twitter.com/iGEyqMFsNv

— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020

Stephanopoulos noted there were holes in those travels bans, but Trump defended those exceptions, saying, “We allowed certain people and it’s true but they were American citizens.”

Trump went on to predict the country would have seen two million deaths without his action.

Asked if there is anything he regrets on his pandemic response, Trump said no.

“I think we did a great job,” he said, as the country nears 200,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Trump went on to say that even without a vaccine the virus is “going to disappear,” repeating a line he delivered back in March as the country first began to shutdown that has come under heavy criticism.

“It is going to disappear. It’s going to disappear, I still say it,” Trump said.

9:14 p.m. Trump claims waiters think ‘masks are not good’

Julie Bart from Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, who says she voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, asked Trump why as a leader he doesn’t wear a mask more often — when science has shown mask wearing is effective in slowing the spread of the virus.

“Well, I do wear them when I have to and when I’m in hospitals and other locations,” Trump said, though he’s been seen in public in a mask less than a handful of times.

He then pivoted to an attack on Biden who has called on every governor to set a mask mandate before defending those Americans who still refuse to wear masks.
“Now, there is, by the way, a lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good,” he said.

When Stephanopoulos pressed Trump on who is saying masks are bad, Trump said, “waiters.”

“They come over and they serve you, and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day where they were serving me, and they’re playing with a mask. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying what happens,” he said. “The concept of a mask is good but it also does — you’re constantly touching it you’re touching your face, you’re touching plates. There are people that don’t think masks are good.”

9:06 p.m. Trump defends pandemic response to a voter who asks why he was thrown ‘under the bus’

Paul Tubiana — who identifies as conservative and pro-life, says he is diabetic and voted for Trump in 2016 — and did not mince words invoking his own struggle.

“I’ve had to dodge people who don’t care about social distancing and wearing face masks. I thought you were doing a good job with a pandemic response, until about May 1, then you took your foot off the gas pedal,” Tubiana said. “Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?”

Trump dismissed any mishandling by his administration.

“Well, we really didn’t, Paul,” Trump replied. “We’ve worked very hard on the pandemic. We’ve worked very hard. It came all the way from China. They should have never let it happen. And if you look at what we’ve done with ventilators and now frankly with vaccines — we’re very close to having a vaccine.”

The president went on to tease a rosy timeline for a coronavirus vaccine, as he has before, suggesting one will come before Election Day, despite concern among Democrats and scientists that the Food and Drug Administration is under political pressure to expedite a vaccine for Trump’s political gain.

“If you want to know the truth, the previous administration would have taken perhaps years to have a vaccine because of the FDA and all the approvals. And we’re within weeks of getting it you know could be three weeks, four weeks,” Trump said.

When Stephanopoulos pressed Trump on why the U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but more than 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and 20% of its deaths, Trump attributed the high rates to more testing.

9 p.m. Town hall kicks off

President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening is taking questions from uncommitted Pennsylvania voters in person and virtually at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia with only seven weeks to go until the 2020 election.

Aside from a pair of Fox News events this spring, Trump hasn’t faced direct voter questions all election cycle. Biden hasn’t had an in-person town hall with voters since February and most of his campaign events now include no members of the general public.

Much has been made about the disappearing “undecided” vote in 2020. A recent Monmouth national poll found only 3% of registered voters hadn’t decided who to vote for, and an NBC/Marist Pennsylvania poll last week pegged the number of undecided voters as 2% of both registered and likely voters.

But not all voters who have chosen between Trump and Biden have committed to voting for one or the other. This phase of the campaign — with unpredictable formats including town halls and then debates — represents fresh opportunities in a race that remains primed for
disruptions.

— ABC News Political Director Rick Klein

8:45 p.m. Political significance of Pennsylvania as Biden, Trump increase campaign foot traffic

The final stretch of campaigning before November has put a clear spotlight on Pennsylvania as a focal point for both Biden’s and Trump’s strategies for winning the White House.

In the span of a week, there were four campaign events in the Keystone State, and both candidates visited the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the attacks.

Although the frequency of visits are facilitated by the state’s close proximity to both candidates’ home bases, Pennsylvania offers more than pandemic-era logistical convenience. After Florida, Pennsylvania boasts the second highest number of electoral votes at stake among the major battleground states, making it critical in any possible mathematical calculation of winning the presidency.

For Trump, a second win in Pennsylvania would represent a defense of his slim 2016 victory when he topped Hillary Clinton by just .7% and toppled the “Blue Wall” by winning Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Prior to 2016, Pennsylvanians voted for Democrats in six straight presidential elections beginning in 1992.

For Biden, a Scranton native, Pennsylvania carries some sentimental value, and presents an opportunity to rebuild a strong Democratic following in a state he won twice with Barack Obama. The former vice president has already made five trips to the state since the pandemic began earlier this year.

8:42 p.m. Trump addresses race issues and wealth disparity in America

Another uncommitted voter questioned the president about his ubiquitous campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” in light of a long history of systemic racism in housing and criminal justice.

“Because you say again, we need to see when was that ‘great’? Because that pushes us back to a time in which we cannot identify with such ‘greatness,'” the voter asked. “You’ve said everything else about choking and everything else, but you have yet to address and acknowledge that it has been a race problem in America.”

“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump said. “I can tell you there’s none with me because I have great respect for all races — for everybody. This country is great because of it.”

The president then turned to what he called “the best unemployment numbers they’ve ever had in the Black community, by far,” prior to the economic fallout from the pandemic.

“And that was solving a lot of problems, and you know what else was — it was bringing people together,” Trump said.

8:34 p.m. Biden slams Trump on ‘broken promises’ to Pennsylvanians

Former Vice President Joe Biden slammed the president for “failed leadership” and “broken promises” to Pennsylvanians in a statement released on Tuesday afternoon ahead of Trump’s trip to Philadelphia to participate in the ABC News town hall.

“President Trump failed Pennsylvania when he promised to bring back jobs but only brought a tax scam that favored the super wealthy and CEOs. He failed Pennsylvania when he intentionally misled the American people and refused to act to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now claimed the lives of nearly 8,000 Pennsylvanians. And he failed Pennsylvania by allowing the pandemic to devastate the economic wellbeing of millions and drive the state’s unemployment rate to reach its highest level in decades,” Biden wrote.

“Long before COVID-19 spread to Philadelphia, President Trump’s failed leadership was felt in every corner of the city. Pennsylvanians deserve better,” Biden added, promising to “restore” the leadership he feels is lacking in the White House if he is elected.

Biden is in Florida on Tuesday, his first trip to the key battleground state since officially securing the Democratic presidential nomination, in a visit that coincides with a fresh slate of polling showing a tightening race in the state with Trump.

ABC News offered to host a similar town hall with Biden, but ABC News and the campaign were not able to find a mutually agreeable date. Biden has a town hall with CNN on Thursday.

8:30 p.m. ‘I up-played it’: In ABC town hall, Trump denies minimizing pandemic threat

With less than two months until ballots are tallied, President Donald Trump defended his handling of race relations in the United States amid a pandemic that has disproportionately affected minority populations and unprecedented social unrest in American cities.

 

In a special @ABC2020, Pres. Trump disputes uncommitted voter who asked why he downplayed a virus that has disproportionately affected communities of color: “I up-played it, in terms of action. My action was very strong.”

Watch tonight at 9|8c on @ABC: https://t.co/aGDnXBiKrq pic.twitter.com/Mklmyvwogd

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 16, 2020

 

Asked Tuesday by an uncommitted voter at ABC News’ town hall, “The President and the People,” why he would “downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities,” Trump denied ever understating the disease’s threat.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action. My action was very strong,” Trump said.

8:30 p.m. State of the Race: Pennsylvania polling

Recent polling paints a murky picture of the current sentiments of Pennsylvanians. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, Biden has an 8-point lead in Pennsylvania, 52% to Trump’s 44%. Meanwhile, a Monmouth University poll released on Wednesday indicated a tighter race between the two, with Biden leading Trump by four points among Pennsylvania’s registered voters, 49% to 45%.

With less than two months go to until the election, and as Pennsylvanians become some of the first voters in the country to request and send back absentee ballots this week, the uncertain polling results indicate that there are likely more trips headed to the Keystone State.

The town hall comes as both presidential candidates say they are counting on taking the Keystone State in November. Tump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by a margin of 0.7% — the narrowest difference in a presidential election for the state since 1840.

Tuesday’s event will be held in accordance with state and local government COVID-19 regulations around attendance limits, as well as guidelines set forward by health officials.

ABC News’ Alisa Wiersema contributed to this report.

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