A tale of two presidential town halls

By Isaiah Colbert and Lauren Leazenby

Gianella Goan

At twin town halls, voters asked presidential candidates questions and audience members had the chance to hear from both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden — albeit in different locations.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, Trump’s town hall was held at the Perez Art Museum in Miami, Florida, and was moderated by Today show host Savannah Guthrie.

During the same time slot, the ABC News Joe Biden Town Hall, moderated by chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, was held in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

Despite being in separate spaces, the candidates discussed similar topics. Here are three main issues addressed in both town halls:


Despite contracting COVID-19 himself, Trump said his opinion has not changed on wearing face masks. Although a study at the University of Washington said wearing face masks could cut the number of expected deaths related to COVID-19 in half, Trump said he has heard conflicting opinions.

“You have a report coming out two days ago that 85% of the people wearing masks catch it,” he said.

The report Trump mentioned was from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September referring to dining out raising the risk of catching COVID-19 in comparison to other social activities, according to the New York Times.

In explaining what he would have done to combat COVID-19, Biden stuck with pointing out what he said Trump has done wrong.

Instead of shutting down travel from China, Biden said he would have wanted access to the original epicenter of the virus in Wuhan, China, in order to study the area. He said he would have heeded the advice of scientists and used the Defense Production Act sooner to produce much needed ventilators.

“The science was becoming clearer and clearer as to how this was spreading so rapidly,” Biden said. “From March on, I stopped doing big meetings. I started wearing masks.”

Trump referred to the antiviral drugs he received while at Walter Reed Medical Center as “cures.” When asked if he supports herd immunity—when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease—as a strategy for COVID-19, he said “the cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.”

“We have therapies now—and maybe you could use the word cures — that are absolutely incredible,” Trump said. “I believe we’re rounding the corner.”

But, the U.S. is not rounding the corner on COVID-19 cases. The average number of positive cases per day has increased 23 percent from two weeks ago, with an average of 53,120 cases per day, according to the New York Times.

It is these “cures” that have made Biden wary of a “Trump” vaccine, he said.

The former vice president was pressed with the same question given to his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris during the vice presidential debate: Would you take a COVID-19 vaccine if one was available before the end of the year?

Biden doubled-down on Harris’ answer, that he will follow scientists’ advice over Trump’s. Depending on the state of the vaccine and whether proper distribution measures were in place, Biden said he would be interested in making it mandatory.

The Supreme Court

Trump said there was “no reason to wait” to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and he would not expect her to favor him in a ruling if there were challenges with the election.

“I would think [Barrett] would be able to rule either for me or against me but I don’t see any conflict whatsoever,” Trump said.

Trump said Republicans and Democrats “within closed rooms” agree Barrett is an outstanding person and “if the shoe were on the other foot,” Democrats would have nominated a justice before an election as well.

Biden said much is at stake for LGBTQ people and women if Barrett joins the bench.

“I think there’s reason to be concerned,” he said. “Healthcare overall is very much in jeopardy.”

Biden, who taught constitutional law courses for 21 years, said he believes it is inconsistent with the Constitution to put a new justice on the Supreme Court while Americans have already started voting.

“The Constitution implies that the way people have a right to determine who’s going to be on the court is how they vote for their senators and their president, [who] seeks advice and consent of the Senate,” he said.

Trump noted the tense atmosphere of the confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh before he was appointed to the Supreme Court following questions about an alleged sexual assault.

“I have never seen any human being treated so badly with false accusations,” Trump said. “There has never been anybody treated as badly as justice Kavanaugh.”

Biden said he is “not a fan” of packing—which refers to a president and politicians possibly expanding the court and appointing numerous justices to the Supreme Court. The process for Barrett’s confirmation has been rushed so far, Biden said, but he has held off on saying whether he, if elected, will pack the court in response.

Biden said he is waiting to see how the situation pans out before he takes a stand and that voters “have a right to know” his stance, which he will announce before Election Day.

Racial Issues and Criminal Justice Reform

Biden said he recognizes it was a mistake to support the 1994 Crime Bill, which put mandatory minimum sentences in place resulting in incarcerating non-violent offenders for extensive periods.

To change the criminal justice system, he proposed the decriminalization of and expungement of records related to marijuana. Additionally, Biden said he will set up a national study group composed of Black and Latinx people, police and social workers to draft reforms to the system.

“I don’t believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use,” he said. “They should be going into rehabilitation.”

Biden said he does not support defunding police departments, but rather reinventing them.

He recommended that law enforcement, working alongside psychologists and social workers, implement tactics that deescalate situations without the use of deadly force. He again suggested a solution which has garnered criticism in the past: “Don’t shoot to kill, shoot them in the leg.”

Trump dodged a question about how he would prepare law enforcement to protect Black and Latino men from police brutality and injustice. Instead Trump said that aside from himself and Abraham Lincoln, no other president has done as much for the Black community.

Trump said he has denounced white supremacy, despite controversy over him telling the Proud Boys—a far-right all-male group known for street violence against protestors—to “stand back and stand by” at the Sept. 30 presidential debate.

However, Trump said Biden has not been asked to denounce Antifa—an anti-fascist action and left-wing political movement.

The final presidential debate is scheduled to take place on Thursday, Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, with both candidates in attendance.