US election updates: Trump grilled by Pennsylvania voters

Voters questioned Trump at Pennsylvania town hall meeting, as Biden travelled to Florida to shore up Latino support.

Trump town hall Philadelphia
US President Donald Trump takes the stage at an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 15, 2020. [REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque]
  • United States President Donald Trump took part in a Philadelphia town hall on Tuesday, 49 days before the election.
  • Joe Biden campaigned in Florida on Tuesday, amid troubling polls showing a slump in Latino support.

  • Trump hailed the UAE, Bahrain deal signing with Israel on Tuesday as the “dawn of a new Middle East”.
  • Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris met with wildfire responders in California.

Here are the latest updates:

Tuesday, September 15

22:15 ET – Trump: ‘They’re Democrat-run cities. It is what it is.’

At a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump blamed Congressional Democrats for wanting “a bailout of Democrat-run states” for the stalemate over a coronavirus relief bill.

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, the moderator of the town hall, pressed Trump on why he keeps criticising “Democrat-run states” and “Democrat-run cities”. As the president of the US, Stephanopoulos asked, “don’t you have a responsibility for those states and cities as well?”

“The Democrat-run states are the ones that are doing badly,” Trump said. “If you look at New York, if you look at Illinois, they’re doing poorly … They have things that Republicans don’t have,” such as crime and sanctuary cities, he added.

“Look, I’m the president of everybody, but I don’t want to say it, but they’re Democrat-run cities. It is what it is.”

Trump faced questions from Stephanopoulos and from Pennsylvania voters during the 90-minute debate. Democrat Joe Biden will also take questions from Pennsylvania voters at a Thursday town hall meeting hosted by CNN.

Trump town hall Philadelphia
U.S. President Donald Trump takes the stage with ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos for a town hall event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 15, 2020. [REUTERS/ Kevin Lamarque]

21:45 ET – Trump dodges when asked about ‘systemic problem’ of police shooting Black Americans

During ABC News’ town hall meeting with Donald Trump in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked Trump if he believed police shootings of Black Americans are “a systemic, endemic problem.”

Trump did not directly answer, and pivoted to promoting the police. “We have to give back to the police the authority to stop crime,” he said.

“But how do you stop police killing Blacks at three times the rate of killing whites?” Stephanopoulos countered.

“I can only say this: that the police in this country have done generally a great job,” Trump continued. “There are crimes, there are problems, and there are chokers. They choke under pressure. I mean they have one-quarter of a second to make a decision, and sometimes they make a wrong decision and that’s a terrible thing.”

21:15 ET – Trump: ‘herd mentality’ will help coronavirus ‘disappear’

At a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump insisted that coronavirus “will go away” even “without the vaccine”.

Moderator George Stephanopoulos of ABC News then asked Trump, “It’ll go away without the vaccine?”

“Sure, over a period of time,” Trump said.

“And you’ll develop, you’ll develop herd – like a herd mentality. It’s going to be – it’s going to be herd developed and that’s going to happen, that will all happen,” Trump continued, mistaking “herd mentality” for the epidemiological term “herd immunity,” which happens when a large majority of a population becomes immune to a disease, meaning those not immune are indirectly protected.

21:00 ET – Trump to voter: I actually ‘up played’ pandemic

An uncommitted Pennsylvania voter asked US President Donald Trump, “If you believe it’s the president’s responsibility to protect America, why would you downplay a pandemic that’s known to disproportionally harm low-income families and minority communities?”

“Well, I didn’t downplay it. In many ways I up played it in terms of action,” Trump responded at a town hall meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania sponsored by ABC News.

“You do not admit to it yourself?” interrupted the voter, Ajani Powell of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Trump continued, “Yeah, because what I did is 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. We did a very, very good job when we put that ban on. Whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important. So, we saved a lot of lives when we did that.”

20:55 ET – Trump asked by voter to explain ‘Make America Great Again’

An uncommitted voter at a town hall meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, questioned Donald Trump about his “Make America Great Again” slogan, wondering “when was that ‘great'” when there “has been a race problem in America”.

“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 said. “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 responded. “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.”

Trump then pointed to “the best unemployment numbers they’ve ever had in the Black community, by far,” before the coronavirus pandemic created an economic downturn.

20:25 ET – Joe Biden appeals to Hispanics for their votes in November

Speaking at an event in Kissimmee, Florida, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden appealed to Hispanic voters for their support, saying they have the power to determine the direction of the US in the election.

“We can build a new administration that reflects the full diversity our nation, including Hispanic communities,” Biden said in remarks that were live streamed by his campaign to an audience of about 1,500 people.

Biden emphasised “faith and family” – two key value points for Hispanics – and criticised President Trump for treating Hispanics as “second-class citizens”.

Biden received endorsements from Puerto Rican pop singers Ricky Martin and Luis Fonsi.

19:15 ET – AG Barr seeks to cast doubt on mail-in balloting

US Attorney General William Barr told a Chicago newspaper columnist that mail-in balloting would lead to voter fraud.

“Just think about the way we vote now,” Barr told Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass.

“You have a precinct, your name is on a list, you go in and say who you are, you go behind a curtain, no one is allowed to go in there to influence you, and no one can tell how you voted. All of that is gone with mail-in voting. There’s no secret vote. You have to associate the envelope in the mailing and the name of who’s sending it in, with the ballot,” Barr claimed.

“A secret vote prevents selling and buying votes. So now we’re back in the business of selling and buying votes. Capricious distribution of ballots means harvesting, undue influence, outright coercion, paying off a postman. Here’s a few hundred dollars, give me some of your ballots,” the attorney general said.

There is no evidence that voting by mail is insecure or more likely to be fraudulent.

Bill Barr Defamation
Attorney General William Barr echoed President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that voting by mail would lead to fraudulent balloting [File: Matt McClain/AP Photo]

18:45 ET –  Biden talks about his appeal to Latino voters in Florida

Ahead of an Hispanic Heritage Month event, Joe Biden was asked by a reporter about his appeal to Latino voters in Florida, a key state in the presidential election contest.

“Look, what I have to do is make the case why it will be so much better for the Hispanic community, the Latino community, if in fact Trump is no longer president,” Biden said.

“That case is an easy one; education, healthcare, immigration, the whole notion of dealing with COVID in a way that doesn’t so damage the Hispanic community which is hurt very badly, much worse than the Caucasian community,” he told media travelling with him.

“It’s about talking about jobs. It’s about to be willing to step up and provide opportunities for people. It’s about being able to make sure … the ability of people to be able to pay their rent, pay their mortgages.”

The US House of Representatives has approved $3 trillion in coronavirus relief including rent and mortgage assistance for people struggling without jobs. The Trump White House and Republicans in the Senate have refused to support the Democratic proposals.

Trump “should get off the damn golf course and sit down in the Oval Office and sit with both Republicans and Democrats and get something done”, Biden said.

17:15 ET – Replica of burned Melania statue unveiled in Slovenia

A new statue of United States First Lady Melania Trump has been erected near her hometown in Slovenia after an identical statue was burned down by unknown arsonists.

A bronze life-sized statue by American conceptual artist Brad Downey was unveiled near the town of Sevnica and is the replica of a previous statue burned down in July.

Artworks inspired by the Trumps have previously aroused strong feelings in Slovenia.

A wooden statue of Melania Trump’s husband US President Donald Trump in the village of Sela pri Kamniku – which was intended as a criticism of populist politics – was also burned down in January.

Melania Trump statue
A bronze statue of US first lady Melania Trump was erected near her birthplace of Sevnica, Slovenia [The Associated Press]

17:00 ET – Oracle ‘very close’ to deal on TikTok: Trump

Silicon Valley tech giant Oracle is “very close” to sealing a deal to become the US partner to Chinese-owned video app TikTok to avert a ban in the US, Trump has said.

Trump’s comments came a day after US officials confirmed that Oracle was set to make a deal with TikTok parent ByteDance ahead of a deadline set by the US president, who has called the app a national security threat.

“I heard they’re very close to a deal,” Trump told reporters, adding that “we’re going to make a decision pretty soon” on whether to approve the tie-up, which would make Oracle a “trusted technology provider” for TikTok.

16:45 ET – Harris tours wildfire destruction in California

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris toured the wildfire destruction in her home state of California on Tuesday.

“Sadly, these wildfires and the devastation they cause are utterly predictable,” Harris said in Auberry.

“Especially in residential areas, and you’ll see where the fire has just swept through. Everything is gone except the chimney … Those chimneys remind me of tombstones,” she said after meeting with emergency responders.

State leaders and Biden have repeatedly blamed the fires, in part, on climate change, while Trump has sought to portray the blazes as a product of poor forest management. State officials say five of the 20 worst fires in California’s history have occurred this year.

Harris california
California Governor Gavin Newsom and Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris tour the damage of the Creek Fire at Pine Ridge Elementary in Auberry, California [Gary Kazanjian/The Associated Press]

16:30 ET – Trump says Saudi will normalise relations with Israel at ‘right time’

Trump has said he expects Saudi Arabia will normalise relations with Israel following the diplomatic move towards normalisation taken by Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates at a White House ceremony.

Asked if he expected Saudi Arabia to follow suit, Trump said, “I do. I spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia.” He added that the move would come “at the right time”.

Trump said he believes “seven or eight or nine” more countries would normalise relations with Israel. The president has hailed the Tuesday normalisation deals as an election-season diplomatic victory.

16:00 ET – New polls show tight race in North Carolina, Biden leading in Wisconsin

A new poll shows Biden with 49 percent support among likely voters in battleground state North Carolina, and Trump with 46 percent support.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the CNN poll conducted by the SSRS survey firm found Biden with 52 percent support, as compared to 42 percent support for Trump.

That poll also found that 48 percent of residents support Biden’s handling of the Jacob Blake shooting and following protests, while 42 percent disapprove. For Trump, 42 percent approve of his handling of the situation, while 54 percent disapprove.

President Donald Trump tours an area on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, damaged during demonstrations after a police officer shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Both candidates visited Kenosha, Wisconsin in early September [File: Evan Vucci/The Associated Press]

15:30 ET – New Democratic party ad uses audio of Woodward interview

A new Democratic National Committee ad uses recordings from an interview between reporter Bob Woodward and Trump, in which Trump says he intentionally downplayed the threat of the coronavirus.

The ad, which is set to air in battleground states and on cable in Washington, DC, shows Trump making public comments that minimise the risk of the coronavirus interspliced with comments he made to Woodward about its deadly risk.

15:00 ET – Biden, in Florida, renews attack on Trump’s reported derision of war dead

Biden has renewed criticism of Trump’s reported derision of US war dead at a veterans campaign event in the battleground state of Florida.

“Nowhere are his faults more glaring and more offensive, to me at least, than when it comes to his denigration of our service members, veterans, wounded warriors who have fallen,” Biden said at a campaign event with veterans in the Tampa area, referencing a bombshell Atlantic magazine report published on September 3.

That report, which cited anonymous sources, described Trump making offensive comments toward fallen and captured US military members, including calling World War I dead at an American military cemetery in France “losers” and “suckers” in 2018.

Trump has denied the remarks.

14:30 ET – Biden campaign manager: ‘people will die’ because of Trump rallies

Joe Biden’s campaign manager has said that “people will die” because of Trump’s non-socially-distanced campaign rallies.

Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, in an interview with Politico, criticised an indoor rally held by Trump over the weekend in Nevada that defied state restrictions on gatherings.

She also criticised Tuesday’s agreement signing between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, calling it “another day-after-day episode showing the fact that the president of the United States is taking guidelines from medical experts about what to do in a pandemic to stay safe and help make sure your colleagues and neighbours are safe, and not executing it… at the White House.”

“People will die because of these types of events and that’s from the president of the United States,” she said. “And you look at folks that might not be wearing masks or aren’t taking this seriously, and you understand how that’s the case.”

Trump rally
President Donald Trump an indoor rally in Henderson, Nevada on Sunday, defying state restrictions [Jonathan Ernst/The Associated Press]

14:00 ET – Pelosi hesitantly welcomes UAE, Bahrain deals with Israel

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi cautiously welcomed the normalisation agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, but said lawmakers needed more details on the deal.

Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said specifically that she wanted more information about any F-35 fighter jet sales to the UAE.

Congress “will be watching and monitoring to ensure that Israel can maintain its qualitative military edge in the region”, Pelosi said.

Pelosi said she maintained her support for a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wanted more information on the promised freeze on Israel annexing the West Bank.

13:45 ET – UAE, Bahrain sign agreements with Israel

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have signed agreements formally normalising relations with Israel, becoming the latest Arab states to break long-standing norms in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran.

In front of a crowd of several hundred people on the White House lawn, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed accords with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani.

The deals, denounced by the Palestinians, make them the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps to normalize ties since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

Read more here.

Deal signing israel uae bahrain white house
Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed participate in the signing ceremony [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

13:30 ET – Trump hails UAE, Bahrain, Israel deals as ‘dawn of a new Middle East’

Trump hailed normalisation deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain as a “dawn of a new Middle East” that will allow people of different faiths to work together during a signing ceremony at the White House.

“We are here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from a balcony overlooking the South Lawn, as he said for the second time on Tuesday that more Arab countries would soon be reaching similar agreements.

“The people of the Middle East will no longer allow hatred of Israel to be fomented as an excuse for radicalism or extremism,” Trump said. “And they’ll no longer allow the great destiny of their region to be denied.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deals would have been “unimaginable a few years ago. But with resolve, determine, a fresh look at the way peace is done, this is being achieved.”

“This peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states. And ultimately, it can end the Arab-Israeli conflict, once and for all,” he said.

Trump uae bahrain israel white house
President Donald Trump speaks during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, look on [Alex Brandon/The Associated Press]

13:00 ET – Ohio judge rules on drop boxes

A state judge in Ohio has ruled that election officials can set up multiple drop boxes per county for voters to return absentee ballots in the November 3 presidential election, writing that a limit of one per county is “arbitrary and unreasonable”.

The decision is a victory for the state Democratic Party, which has pushed to allow local election officials to set up multiple drop boxes to accommodate voters who do not want to return absentee ballots by mail.

Drop boxes have become a partisan flashpoint in the presidential election. Democrats have promoted them as a reasonable and reliable option for voters unnerved by the COVID-19 pandemic and US Postal Service delivery problems.

Republican officials and President Trump’s campaign have sought to limit them in many states, arguing without evidence that the receptacles could enable voting fraud.

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A voter prepares to cast her mail-in ballot in Florida [File: Octavio Jones/Reuters]

12:30 ET – Trump says deals close between Israel and ‘five or six’ other countries

Trump has said that “five or six” more Arab countries were poised to agree to normalise relations with Israel, in line with the new accords struck between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

“We’re very far down the road with about five countries, five additional countries,” Trump said as he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office, ahead of a signing ceremony with both Arab states. “We’ll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly, we’re already talking to them.”

Trump also said the agreements could bring Iran back to the table for a new deal. The White House withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in 2018. The deal would have seen Iran curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

“You’ll have Iran coming back and saying, Let’s get this all thing worked out,” Trump said. “If we win, we’ll have a deal with Iran, I think we’re gonna make a deal with Iran.”

Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office [Alex Brandon/The Associated Press]

12:00 ET – Scientific American backs Biden in first endorsement ever

Scientific American, a science magazine based in the US, has endorsed Biden, the first time it has ever backed a US presidential candidate.

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly,” an editorial published by the magazine said.

The magazine largely focuses on Trump’s coronavirus response, saying he has “badly damaged the US and its people  – because he rejects evidence and science”.

The editorial says Trump’s rejection of evidence goes beyond the coronavirus, and includes attempts to do away with the Affordable Care Act, proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and withdrawing the US from the World Health Organization.

Six months into pandemic, weaknesses in governance exposed

11:30 ET – Trump says he wanted to assassinate Syrian president

During a wide-ranging Fox & Friends interview early Tuesday, Trump also revealed he had wanted to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017, but then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis prevented it.

“I would’ve rather taken him out,” Trump said. “I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general.”

Trump, according to the Washington Post, had roundly denied he had ever wanted to assassinate Assad.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad addresses the new members of parliament in Damascus, Syria in this handout released by SANA on August 12, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
Trump had previously denied wanting to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after a 2017 chemical attack on civilians [Reuters]

11:15 ET – Trump says Woodward book ‘boring’

Trump, in an interview with Fox & Friends, said he read a new book by journalist Bob Woodward that contains revelations that Trump intentionally played down the threat of the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic.

“I actually got to read it last night. I read it very quickly, and it was very boring,” Trump said of the book, which features recorded interviews in which Trump tells Woodward he knew the coronavirus posed a deadly risk, and was more dangerous than the “strenuous flu”. Trump made the statements as he was publicly saying the coronavirus posed no greater threat than the seasonal flu.

When asked if the book was accurate, Trump replied: It’s okay. I mean, it’s fine.”

11:00 ET – Trump says vaccine could be approved ‘in a matter of weeks’

Trump, in an interview with the Fox & Friends programme, has said a coronavirus vaccine could be approved “in a matter of weeks”.

The president also denied that his push for a vaccine, which he has repeatedly touted on the campaign trail, is politically motivated. Health experts have voiced concern that Trump could try to fast track a vaccine before November 3, despite it being unrealistic that such a vaccine could properly undergo needed safety tests in that timeframe.

Fueling concerns have been Trump’s attacks on the agency that oversees the safety of US medications. Trump has accused “deep state” actors at the Food and Drug Administration of intentionally slowing approvals to hurt him politically.

“I’m not doing it for political reasons, I want the vaccine fast,” Trump said. “You wouldn’t have a vaccine for years.

“I speeded up the process with the FDA … We’re going to have a vaccine in a matter of weeks, it could be four weeks it could be eight weeks … we have a lot of great companies,” he said.

Trump accused of playing down COVID-19 crisis in new book

10:30 ET – Uber to provide in-app voter registration, mail ballot requests

Eligible US voters will soon be able to register to vote and request mail ballots from the Uber ridesharing app, the company has announced.

In the partnership with TurboVote, Uber says it will help “riders, eaters, drivers and delivery people” take part in the election.

“We hope that by giving people the ability to easily register to vote and request an absentee ballot via the Uber and Uber Eats apps, independent workers – and everyone who uses our platform – will have a stronger voice in our democracy,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

The company also said it will offer discounted rides to polling sites on election day.

Uber eats
An Uber Eats bicyclist makes a delivery in Washington, DC [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

10:00 ET – Delaware holds primary vote

Biden’s home state Delaware is holding primary voting for US House and Senate seats, as well as for the state’s governor.

Biden on Monday cast an early ballot for Senator Chris Coons, who faces a progressive challenger in 34-year-old Jessica Scarane in the solidly blue state.

Republicans vying for their party’s nomination to run for the seat are 62-year-old former Marine Jim DeMartino, who has the backing of the party’s establishment, and 32-year-old Lauren Witzke, who has been vocal on far-right channels and has voiced support for the QAnon conspiracy theories.

Incumbent Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester is running unopposed, while actor Lee Murphy and furniture sales manager Matthew Morris face-off to be the Republican nominee for the seat.

Biden Delaware
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden depart after voting early in Delaware’s state primary election [Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press]

09:30 ET – Biden promises to ‘work like the Devil’ to win back Latino support in Florida

Biden is set to make his first trip Florida as his party’s official candidate on Tuesday, as his campaign acknowledges concerns about his appeal with Latinos in the state.

On Tuesday, the former vice president will hold a roundtable with veterans in Tampa before marking Hispanic Heritage Month with an event in Kissimmee near Orlando. The visit comes after a batch of new polls showed Trump slightly leading Biden in Latino support in the state. In 2016, Clinton carried the demographic, which makes up 20 percent of the electorate in the influential state, by a 59 percent to 36 percent margin.

“I will talk about how I am going to work like the devil to make sure I turn every Latino and Hispanic vote,” Biden said after a Monday speech on climate change in Delaware.

Biden does not need to win Florida’s 29 electoral votes to capture the White House as long as he reclaims the northern battleground states that Trump flipped in 2016. Meanwhile, Trump’s re-election is considered extremely unlikely if he loses Florida.

09:00 ET – Trump set to host UAE, Bahrain agreements with Israel

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain will become the first Gulf states to sign agreements towards normalising relations with Israel in a US-brokered deal that has been portrayed as an election season coup for Trump.

Trump will host the White House ceremony at 16:00 GMT, capping a dramatic month when first the UAE and then Bahrain agreed to reverse decades of ill will without a resolution of Israel’s decades-old dispute with the Palestinians.

On Tuesday, Trump also said he would have “no problem” selling F-35 stealth fighter jets to the UAE, a prospect Israel has pushed back on in attempts to maintain its overwhelming military advantage against its Arab neighbours.

Analysts have said the UAE likely used its desire for the advanced aircraft as a bargaining chip in the negotiations over the normalisation agreement.


Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the US elections. This is Joseph Stepansky.

Read all the updates from yesterday (September 14) here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies