After a cacophonous debacle in the first presidential debate, American voters were given a chance on Thursday to watch, without interruption, the candidates vying for high office.
Joe Biden and Donald Trump each had their own prime-time slot in town hall events on competing television networks.
The bizarre scene was triggered by an unusual turn of events, featuring a dispute over the debate format precipitated by Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis.
It gave the frontrunner, Biden, a chance to speak at unimpeded length in a way he simply couldn’t in the first, insult-heavy, idea-light showdown with Trump.
And, with just three weeks to go before the Nov. 3 election, it may have delivered a late-campaign blow to a central Trump message about the frailty of Biden’s mental faculties.
The Democratic nominee was pressed on controversial topics like whether he would stop fossil-fuel fracking, or start expanding the Supreme Court.
Biden’s answers: No and maybe.
WATCH | Biden responds to question about restoring civility:
He said he favours a shift to clean energy, but at a manageable pace, with hundreds of billions in incentives for green-infrastructure projects.
Biden said some progressive proposals to eliminate carbon emissions in power generation by 2030 are not possible: “You can’t get there,” he said. “You’re going to need to be able to transition.”
On the Supreme Court, the former vice-president hinted that he’s been dangling the possibility of packing the bench with new justices as a leverage play.
He said he was withholding his answer until Republicans decide whether to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and guaranteed a clearer policy before election day.
He said he’s skeptical of simply adding new judges, as it would provoke continual battles over the court size.
“I have not been a fan of court-packing,” he said. But in one of his lengthier answers, involving racial inequity, Biden rattled off a series of numbers and planks from his platform.
He proposed tripling the funding for poorer schools so that they might offer teachers $60,000 salaries; he alluded to a stat that the ratio of school psychologists to students should be lowered from one per 1,400 students, to one per 500; he talked about business-administration loans and a $15,000 first-time homebuyers’ plan to help families accumulate wealth.
After that monologue, the town-hall moderator, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, turned to the young audience member who asked the question: “Did you hear what you needed to hear?”
The young man said: “I think so.” Then Biden kept talking, and talked some more with audience members after the show was over, milling about and taking questions off the air.
WATCH | Biden won’t say if he’ll expand the Supreme Court:
Biden promised not to hold grudges against political opponents, and promised to govern for all Americans.
“In politics, grudges don’t work,” Biden said, calling insults a recipe for inaction in trying to pass laws on Capitol Hill. “You can’t get anywhere. Nothing happens.”
Trump questioned about QAnon
Trump was on another network, NBC.
Trump was asked whether he would denounce the QAnon conspiracy theories.
The moderator, Savannah Guthrie, asked: “It is this theory that Democrats are a Satanic pedophile ring. And that you are the saviour. Can you just once and for all, state that is completely not true?”
Trump said he knew nothing about QAnon, then added: “I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard.” When asked whether he denounced white supremacy, a matter of some controversy in the first debate, Trump replied with annoyance.
“You always do this,” he told Guthrie.
“I denounce white supremacy. OK? … I denounce white supremacy. I have, for years.”
WATCH | Trump asked again about white supremacy:
He promised to have a plan soon for undocumented young migrants living in legal limbo and another to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions, if Obamacare gets struck down by the Supreme Court.
There is no plan yet.
Trump doesn’t actually have a 2020 election platform. He says he’ll just keep doing what he’s been doing.
Asked at the end why he deserves four more years, he mentioned the low unemployment, strong economic growth before the pandemic, stronger borders and increased military spending.
“Because I’ve done a great job,” he said.