Trump, Biden quizzed on COVID-19, QAnon and taxes: a timeline

Presidential rivals hold separate town halls on a night they were supposed to be facing off in a second in-person debate.

Trump's event is in Miami and Biden is in Philadelphia [Brendan Smialowski and Jim Watson/AFP]
  • US President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden competed for TV audiences in duelling town halls instead of meeting face to face for their second debate as originally planned.
  • At least three people connected to Biden’s campaign have tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris has suspended in-person campaigning after her staffer was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the United States elections. This is Jihan Abdalla and Saba Aziz.

Thursday, October 15:

21:30 ET – Biden town hall ends

Biden seen wearing a mask at the ABC Town Hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

21:30 ET – Biden expects next debate with Trump will have COVID-19 safeguards

Biden was asked about Trump’s evasions on his COVID-19 testing around the last debate.

“It’s just decency to be able to determine whether or not you are clear,” Biden said, adding he would “abide by what the commission rules call for” in the next debate scheduled for October 22.

“I’m confident that the Cleveland Clinic is the one overseeing it. They’re not going to not let happen what happened last time. They’re going to demand that it’s safe,” Biden said.

21:25 ET – Biden says if elected, he would try to unify Americans

Keenan Wilson, an African American man from Narberth, Pennsylvania, asked Biden how he would address the racial divide in the US.

“We are a country that is a country of slaves who came here 400 years ago, indigenous people and everyone else is an immigrant. And we’re a diverse country, and unless we are able to treat people equally, we’re never, just never going to meet our potential. But I think the American people want to see that happen,” Biden said.

“If I’m elected you will not hear me race baiting. You will not hear me dividing. You will see me trying to unify,” Biden said.

21:15 ET – Biden credits Trump for Israel deal but says foreign policy has left US ‘less secure’

Mark Hoffman, a Republican from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, asked Biden whether President Trump’s foreign policy deserves some credit?

“We find ourselves in a position where we’re more isolated in the world than we ever been,” Biden said.

“I do compliment the president on the deal with Israel recently,” Biden said referring to agreements brokered by Trump with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel. But Trump’s “America First” policy with US allies has translated into “America alone”, Biden said.

“Iran is closer to having enough nuclear material to build an atomic bomb and North Korea has more bombs and missiles available to it, “ Biden said.

“We find our NATO allies publicly saying they can’t count on us. We’re in a situation as well where in the Far East we find ourselves in the western Pacific, where we are isolated as well. You have Japan and South Korea at odds with each other. China is making moves. So, I would say we find ourselves less secure than we’ve been.”

21:05 ET – Biden says ‘fracking’ needs to be managed to prevent pollution, would invest in renewable energy

Michele Ellison, a Republican from Pittsburgh who has voted for Democrats, asked Biden about his policy on fracking, a method of drilling for oil and gas in shale formations.

“I don’t not propose banning fracking. You have to make sure that fracking is not polluting… it has to be managed very, very well,” Biden said.

“The future rests in renewable energy”, like wind and solar, Biden said, adding he believes moving the US economy to clean energy will create jobs.

“Every time we talk about global warming and energy, the president thinks it’s a joke, and I think it’s jobs,” Biden said.

Biden sits on stage beside host George Stephanopoulos at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

21:00 ET – Trump town hall ends

20:50 ET – Trump says ‘we are going to take care’ of undocumented child migrants

Trump was asked by a voter, “If you are elected to a second term, do you expect to pursue your previous efforts to cut the DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] programme?”

Trump promised, “We are going to take care of DACA, we are going to take care of ‘dreamer,’” before moderator Savannah Guthrie pointed out that “the DACA programme has been curtailed.”

Trump responded that was mostly because of the pandemic, but also “other reasons” that he didn’t detail.

When Guthrie pointed out that Trump’s been promising immigration policy for months but has yet to unveil a plan, he promised, “I think you’re going to see something very, very good,” again without offering any more details.

Trump gives a thumb up during a live one-hour NBC News town hall forum with a group of Florida voters in Miami [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

20:50 ET – Trump admits flipping on filling Supreme Court seat in election year

A voter asked Trump about why he’s rushing through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and moderator Savannah Guthrie followed up with a question about what Trump said about a similar court vacancy scenario.

When asked about his opposition to President Obama filling Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat before the election in 2016, Trump candidly says his opinion has flipped.

“The whole ball game changed when I saw how they treated Justice Kavanaugh,” he said, referring to the bruising confirmation process for Trump’s last Supreme Court appointment.

“I have never seen a human being treated so badly.”

Trump takes part in a live one-hour NBC News town hall forum with a group of Florida voters in Miami, Florida [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

20:45 ET – Biden says Barrett nomination before election is ‘inconsistent’ constitutional principles, will consider expanding US Supreme Court

Biden was asked about President Trump’s nomination of conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court and was pressed by moderator George Stephanopoulos on whether Democrats would seek to expand the court after the election.

“Once an election begins it is inconsistent with constitutional principles to put someone on the court,” Biden said, adding: “I have not been a fan of court packing”.

But, “It depends on how this turns out,” Biden said. If Senate Republicans ram through Barrett’s confirmation over the objections of Senate Democrats, Biden said: “I am open to considering what happens from that point of time.”

Joe Biden participates in an ABC News town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on October [Jim Watson/AFP]

20:45 ET – Trump on his tax returns: ‘Their numbers were wrong’

Moderator Savannah Guthrie brought up last month’s New York Times report on Trump’s tax returns and asked him point blank about his debts: “Who do you owe $421 million to?”

Trump responded by saying what the Times “did was illegal” and that “their numbers were all wrong.”

He insisted he doesn’t owe any money to Russia. “I don’t owe money to any of these sinister people.”

20:35 ET – Biden says his prior support for the 1994 crime bill was a mistake

Angela Politarhos, a Republican voter from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, asked Biden where he stands on the 1994 crime bill “which showed prejudice against minorities”?

“Well first of all things have changed a lot,” said Biden who was the lead sponsor of the bill in the US Senate.

Biden noted the bill was supported by Black legislators and urban leaders at the time but acknowledged that it generated unfair prison sentences for drug crimes.

“I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use,” Biden said. “They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation. We should be building rehab centers.”

“We should decriminalise marijuana,” Biden said. “We have got to change the system.”

20:35 ET – Trump on ‘peaceful transfer of power’: ‘absolutely’

Trump, who last month wouldn’t commit to participating in a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, took the opposite tack when asked the same question at his town hall.

“Peaceful transfer? I absolutely want that. But ideally, I don’t want to transfer, because I want to win,” Trump said, before accusing Democrats of being the ones not accepting a peaceful transfer in 2016 alleging they “spied heavily on my campaign” and “they tried to take down a duly elected sitting president.”

“And then they talk about, ‘Will you accept a peaceful transfer?’” he continued. “And The answer is yes, I will. But I want it to be an honest election. And so does everybody else.”

20:35 ET – No stimulus? Trump says it’s all Pelosi’s fault

In response to a voter’s question as to why there’s a standstill on a coronavirus stimulus bill in Congress, Trump laid blame at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s feet.

“The problem you have is Nancy Pelosi, she couldn’t care less about the worker, she couldn’t care less about the people,” he said, not acknowledging that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is also part of the reason Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse.

“She’s in our way, she’s not approving it.”

Trump holds a chart showing the number of death by COVID-19 in the US and other countries [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

When asked whether Senate Republicans would go along with a deal hammered out by the White House and House Democrats, Trump expressed confidence they would, even though McConnell has suggested otherwise.

“I’m ready to sign a big, beautiful stimulus,” Trump said. “If we agree to something, the Republicans will agree with it.”

20:25 ET – Biden says he would earn support from Black voters with funding for schools, housing and criminal justice reform

Cedric Humphrey, an African American voter, asked Biden why Blacks should vote for him instead of not voting in “a system that continually fails to protect them”?

“It’s a sacred opportunity to have the right to vote. It can make a difference if young Black women and men vote. You can determine the outcome of this election, not a joke, you can do that,” Biden said.

Biden said he views education as “the key” to progress for Black Americans and said he would take steps to invest more federal funding in schools and housing, while “dealing with a criminal justice system, make it fair and make it more decent”.

20:25 ET – Trump’s muddled mask-wearing message

A voter asked Trump whether his experience with COVID-19 has changed his opinion on mask-wearing and while he said, “I’m all for it,” he also continued to point to reports that they’re not effective.

Moderator Savannah Guthrie cut him off saying, “experts are in unision” in the belief that wearing masks will significantly cut down on transmission.

“I say wear the mask. I’m fine with it,” Trump said. “We’re on the same side.”

Trump speaks with host Savannah Guthrie during a live one-hour NBC News town hall forum with a group of Florida voters in Miami [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

20:15 ET – Biden says his tax plan would not raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 and would create jobs

A Republican voter from a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suburb asked Biden to explain his tax plan.

“When I said the Trump tax cuts of about $1.3 trillion of the $2 trillion in tax cuts went to the top one tenth of 1 percent, that’s what I’m talking about eliminating, not all the tax cuts that are out there,” Biden said.

Biden said he would raise the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent and hike taxes on people making more than $400,000 to 39.6 percent.

Biden sits on stage beside host George Stephanopoulos, ahead of an ABC Town Hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

20:15 ET – Trump refuses to denounce QAnon

Trump was asked about denouncing QAnon, whose followers traffic in conspiracy theories about Democrats.

He refused to denounce the group or even say that their theories are bunk.

“I know nothing about QAnon. … I know nothing about it,” Trump said before adding: ”I do know they are very much against pedophilia.”

Trump then turned the tables and asked moderator Savannah Guthrie why she doesn’t ask Joe Biden why he doesn’t denounce Antifa and “the radical left”.

Guthrie then pointed out that Republican Senator Ben Sasse said “QAnon is nuts,” Trump said, “He may be right, I just don’t know about Qanon.”

Supporters wearing shirts with the QAnon logo, chat before Trump takes the stage during his Make America Great Again rally in Wilkes-Barre, PA [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

20:10 ET – Biden says he will depend on science regarding the COVID-19 vaccine

Kelly Leigh, from Philadelphia, asked Biden if a vaccine is approved by the end of the year, would you take it?

“President Trump talks about things that aren’t even accurate about everything from vaccines. We’re going to have one right away. It’s going to happen and so on. The point is that if the scientists, if the body of scientist say this is what is ready to be done… I would take it,” Biden said.

Biden said as president he would not necessarily mandate people take the vaccine depending on future circumstances but would encourage it.

20:05 ET – Trump still not clear on when his last negative test was prior to COVID diagnosis

President Donald Trump was directly asked by NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie when his last negative coronavirus test was prior to his COVID -19 diagnosis and Trump continued to avoid specifics.

“I test all the time,” Trump repeated when asked whether he tested negative on September 29, the day of his debate with Joe Biden.

“I probably did,” he responded without saying definitively when his last negative test was before testing positive on October 1.

20:04 ET – Biden in ABC town hall is asked what should have been done at beginning of COVID-19 outbreak

Nick Feden, a Democrat from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, asked Joe Biden a two-part question:

What would following the science have meant in actual policy at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak? And going forward what would following the science mean in terms of policy in a Biden administration?

Biden said Trump failed to push back on China’s President Xi when Chinese authorities expelled US experts at the beginning of the outbreak.

“To the best of our knowledge, Trump never pushed back on that. All those 44 people got sent home, never got replaced,” Biden said.

Biden said Trump failed to tell the public what he was being told by scientists about the risk of the virus.

“Americans don’t panic. He panicked. He didn’t say a word to anybody,” Biden said.

20:00 ET – Duelling town halls have begun

The town halls offer a different format for the candidates to present themselves to voters, after the two held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month.

19:15 ET – Biden tests negative for coronavirus: campaign

Biden tested negative for the coronavirus on Thursday, his campaign said in a statement, after Biden flew earlier this week with a person who subsequently tested positive.

19:00 ET – Rival town halls set to get under way

Trump and Biden are about to hold competing town hall-style events on a night they were supposed to be facing off in a second debate.

That debate got cancelled after Trump refused to agree to conduct it virtually following hiscoronavirus diagnosis.

Trump’s event in Miami, Florida will air on NBC and Biden will take questions on ABC from voters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

17:00 ET – Trump campaign: Debates commission ‘bidding’ for Biden

Trump’s presidential campaign criticised what it called a “biased” Commission on Presidential Debates for favouring his Democratic rival Biden.

“Filled with pro-Biden Democrats and anti-Trump ‘Republicans,’ the commission has done the bidding of Joe Biden every step of the way and protected him at every turn,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, said.

“There was no medical reason the candidates could not be on stage together tonight in Miami for the second debate, but instead they will be holding separate town halls,” he added.

Trump and Biden will face off in the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee on October 22 [File: Julio Cortez/AP]

16:50 ET – C-SPAN suspends Scully after he admits to lie about hack

US network C-SPAN suspended its political editor Steve Scully indefinitely after he admitted to lying about his Twitter feed being hacked when he was confronted about a questionable exchange with former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci.

The news came on the day of what was supposed to be a career highlight for the 30-year C-SPAN veteran.

Scully was to moderate the second debate between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, which was cancelled after Trump would not agree to a virtual format because of his COVID-19 diagnosis.

A week ago, when Steve Scully was questioned about a message he had sent to former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci seeking advice, Scully claimed that someone had gotten into his account and done that [File: Ron Edmonds/AP]

16:30 ET – Biden flew with person who tested positive for COVID-19: Campaign

Biden flew on an aeroplane with a person who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, but the former vice president was not in close contact with the person and there is no need for him to quarantine, his campaign said.

“Vice President Biden was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC [US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], with this individual at any time,” the statement said, adding they both wore masks during the flights, which occurred on Monday and Tuesday.

“Given these facts, we have been advised by the Vice President’s doctor and the campaign’s medical advisors that there is no need for the Vice President to quarantine,” it said.

Joe Biden waves as he arrives at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on Tuesday [Carolyn Kaster/AP]

16:15 ET – Trump joins the anti-NBC chorus

US television network NBC is under fire from critics for scheduling a town hall meeting with Trump at the same time as ABC is hosting Biden for his own town hall.

Now, you can add Trump to the list of NBC critics, but it’s not because of the scheduling controversy.

“So you know, I’m being set up tonight, right. I’m doing this town hall with Con-cast,” Trump said at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, referring to Comcast, the owner of NBC, a company with which he has feuded for years, accusing them of biased news coverage of him.

“So I’m doing it and it’s NBC. The worst.”

“And so they asked me if I’d do it, and I figured what the hell, we’ve got a free hour on television,” Trump added.

16:00 ET – Record numbers of early voters

Americans are voting early in record numbers, with more than 17.8 million casting their ballots already ahead of the presidential election in November.

While the result of the White House race will not be known until Election Day on November 3 – or perhaps much later – the early vote indications appear to favour Biden, who has a double-digit lead over Trump in the national polls.

Election experts point to the coronavirus crisis and an expansion of voting by mail for the surge in early voting, which is on a pace to smash the 2016 total of 47 million early votes.

Early voters wait to cast their ballots at the South Regional Library polling location in Durham, North Carolina [Gerry Broome/AP]

15:20 ET – Will Biden turn Georgia blue?

Political analyst Nate Silver at has switched the group’s rating on the likely outcome of the election in Georgia following a Quinnipiac University Poll that showed Joe Biden seven percentage points ahead of Trump there.

“For the first time all year, Joe Biden is the favourite – the ever-so-slight favourite! – in our forecast,” Silber wrote on the website.

The race in Georgia is now forecast as a toss-up and Trump could easily reemerge as the leader, Silver wrote.

But Biden has been leading in polls recently, suggesting Democrats in Georgia could overcome strict new voting rules put in place by Republicans since 2016 to win the state.

15:00 ET – Trump ‘very concerned’ after Harris’s staffer tests positive for COVID-19

Speaking at a campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump said he was “very concerned” about Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris after one of her staff members along with a non-staff flight crew member associated with the campaign tested positive for COVID-19.

“I’m very concerned about her,” Trump told his supporters at the Pitt-Greenville Airport.

“We extend our best wishes which is more than they did to me. But that’s okay,” he added.

14:45 ET – Trump urges North Carolina to ‘open up’ in campaign rally

Trump held a rally in Greenville, North Carolina just as long lines formed at polling places across the state as the battleground state kicked off early in-person voting.

“North Carolina, tell your governor to open up your state, open up your schools,” Trump said about the lockdowns used to limit the transmission of the coronavirus.

Early voting locations that opened in all 100 counties of the high-stakes swing state quickly drew crowds.

“I’m running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics,” Trump said speaking about his Democratic opponent Biden [Evan Vucci/AP]

14:40 ET – Senate committee to subpoena Twitter CEO over blocking stories

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary  Committee plans to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey after the social media platform blocked a disputed article about Biden.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said the committee will issue the subpoena, compelling Dorsey to speak before it, because Twitter is “abusing their corporate power to silence the press and to cover up allegations of corruption”.

The social media giant on Wednesday blocked users from sharing or linking to a controversial New York Post article amid concerns that it could be linked to a disinformation campaign weeks ahead of the presidential election.

Read more here.


14:30 ET – Hollywood stars slam NBC over Trump town hall

Hollywood stars from Barbra Streisand and Ben Stiller to Julia Louis-Dreyfus and J J Abrams have slammed US broadcaster NBC for scheduling a Trump town hall at the same time as challenger Biden’s own event.

“(W)e have been devastated to learn that you have chosen to air President Trump’s town hall… directly opposite Vice President Biden’s town hall,” said an open letter to NBCUniversal executives signed by more than 100 actors, writers and directors.

“By agreeing to air his town hall as counterprogramming opposite Vice President Biden’s town hall on ABC, you are enabling the President’s bad behavior,” it added.


12:25 ET – Twitter restricts Trump’s campaign account from tweeting

Twitter Inc on Thursday temporarily restricted Trump’s election campaign account from tweeting, saying a video from the account about Biden’s son violated its rules.

The video posted by the @TeamTrump account referred to a New York Post story from Wednesday that contained alleged details of Hunter Biden’s business dealings with a Ukrainian energy company and said the former vice president had met with an adviser of the company.

“Joe Biden is a liar who has been ripping off our country for years,” the video was captioned.

12:15 ET – Biden and Democrats raised record $383m in September

Biden and his party raised a record-shattering $383m in September for his presidential bid, likely bolstering his financial advantage Trump.

The campaign had $432m in cash at month’s end for the final five weeks of the race, campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said on Twitter.

The haul outstripped the $365m that Democrats raised in August, which was itself a monthly record for any US presidential campaign.

“To every person who chipped in a few dollars last month – thank you,” Biden wrote on Twitter in announcing the sum. “I’m incredibly humbled.”

12:00 ET – ‘A long way to go’

With early voting underway in many states, 16 million Americans have already cast their votes, according to the latest statistics.

11:05 ET – Trump would go higher than $1.8 trillion on coronavirus stimulus deal

US President Donald Trump said he would agree to go higher than the $1.8 trillion that the White House has offered in coronavirus stimulus funding to strike a deal with House Democrats, who are seeking $2.2 trillion.

In an interview with Fox Business Network, Trump said there was a chance of getting a COVID-19 stimulus package passed before the November 3 presidential elections, though hopes for a deal have dimmed.

US President Donald Trump during a campaign rally at Des Moines International Airport in Des Moines, Iowa, the US [Carlos Barria/Reuters]

10:50 ET – Poll: Most Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of COVID-19

The majority of Americans are highly critical of President Trump’s handling of both the coronavirus pandemic and his own illness, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The survey indicates few Americans trust information the White House has released about Trump’s bout with COVID-19.

Initial accounts of the president’s condition were murky and contradictory, and the White House is still refusing to say when the president last tested negative for COVID-19 before his infection became public.

The poll suggests many Americans agree that Trump has mishandled the pandemic, with 65 percent saying the president has not taken the coronavirus outbreak seriously enough.

09:55 ET – Harris pauses in-person campaigning after staffer diagnosed with COVID-19

US Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will cancel her travel plans through Sunday after one of her staff members tested positive for COVID-19, the campaign said in a statement.

The campaign said that Harris was last tested on Wednesday and was negative.

Her communications director, Liz Allen, had tested positive along with a non-staff flight crew member associated with the campaign.

Read more here.

Kamala Harris faces reporters in a hangar after she and Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, US [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

09:40 ET –  Vote for contentious Supreme Court nominee set for October 22

The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee has set a vote on confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett for October 22 at 1pm.

Barrett’s hearings turned contentious as Democrats contend Barrett has not been candid in her responses to questions, withheld information about speeches she has given in the past, and failed to affirm basic elements of law and public discourse that would put her at odds with Trump.

“I thought she was incredibly forthcoming,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the committee. Democrats disagreed.

“We’ve reached the point now where gifted, experienced jurists, legal scholars take that seat behind the table and then deny everything, refuse to answer anything,” said Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat.

US Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett testifying on the third day of her US Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, US [Jonathan Ernst/Pool via Reuters]

09:30 ET – Duelling town halls

Trump and Biden will compete for TV audiences in duelling town halls instead of meeting face-to-face for their second debate as originally planned.

Starting at 8pm ET, the two will take questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Florida and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – both US battleground states.

Trump backed out of plans for the presidential face-off originally scheduled for October 15 after debate organisers shifted the format to a virtual event following Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis.

09:00 ET – Mail reversal

The US Postal Service is resuming full operations after changes that slowed mail service nationwide.

The Postal Service agreed to reverse all changes, which included reduced retail hours, removal of collection boxes and mail sorting machines, closure or consolidation of mail processing facilities, restriction of late or extra trips for timely mail delivery, and banning or restricting overtime.

The agreement also requires the service to prioritise election mail.

Read yesterday’s updates here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies