President Trump fielded an intense line of questioning at a town hall tonight that touched on the coronavirus, conspiracy theories and his reelection campaign.
The bitter, fiery first debate in late September was marked by Trump’s frequent interruptions and Biden’s harsh language.
But fireworks flew freely in the town hall tonight, as well.
NBC’s Samantha Guthrie kicked off the hourlong event by grilling Trump about some of the unanswered questions surrounding his coronavirus diagnosis revealed earlier in October.
Trump said he did not remember whether he was or was not tested on the day of the first debate with Biden, which occurred less than a week before Trump announced he had contracted Covid-19.
“Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t,” Trump said.
Guthrie shifted her focus to the in-person events Trump has hosted, including his signature campaign rallies, which have recently resumed after the president’s hospitalization with the coronavirus.
Attendees at the rallies are often packed tightly without wearing masks or other protective gear, and health experts have warned that the events could facilitate the spread of Covid-19.
“As president, I have to be out there,” Trump said, explaining that he “can’t be locked in a very beautiful room somewhere in the White House.” He acknowledged that “it’s risky doing it.”
Guthrie replied: “You want to be a leader, but you also are a leader and a setter of an example.”
Asked about masks specifically, Trump said, “I’m good with masks.”
But he quickly added, “but just the other day they came out with a statement that 85% of the people that wear masks catch it.”
Guthrie pushed back: “They didn’t say that, I know that study.”
The CDC tweeted Wednesday that “the interpretation that more mask-wearers are getting infected compared to non-mask wearers is incorrect.”
Trump also appeared to confirm key elements of reporting that his income tax bill in 2016 was just $750 while holding debts worth hundreds of millions.
‘I think that’s a filing number. You pay $750, it’s a filing or a filing fee,’ Trump responding, appearing to confirm the bottom line assessment that the billionaire paid a fraction of what millions of Americans pay in federal income taxes.
Trump also did not knock down The New York Times reporting, based on years of tax returns the paper said it obtained, that he owed $421 million in debts that would come due in his next term, many to foreign entities.
‘I don’t owe Russia money,’ he said unprompted, but didn’t give a clear answer when asked if he owed any foreign entities.
Trump also claimed he has done more for African Americans ‘than any president since Abraham Lincoln.’
That is considered a laughable claim by historians who point out that Lyndon Johnson signed both the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act during his presidency.
A 2017 study that assessed modern presidents based on the analysis of editorials published in Black newspapers ranked Johnson at the top, and Trump would placed in the bottom third.
Trump also claimed, “we’ve created more jobs than this country has ever created.”
In reality, the employment-to-population ratio stood at 61.1 percent in February, substantially lower than a 64.7 percent high in early 2000, at the tail end of the Clinton administration.
Even looking at the prime age employment-to-population rate to account for the fact that population aging could depress employment rates, they remained lower in early 2020 than in 2000.
It is also not true that Trump’s administration has created more jobs than prior administrations.
He also claimed he has created the ‘greatest economy in history’, which is not factually correct.
Guthrie also pressed Trump on “QAnon,” the controversial pro-Trump conspiracy theory that has reportedly exploded in popularity online.
The baseless theory alleges, among other things, that Trump is secretly fighting against “deep state” factions of powerful Satanic pedophiles who are plotting against him and his supporters.
Trump has previously said he knows little about QAnon — other than that its followers like him, which he appreciates.
Guthrie laid out some of the core components of QAnon before asking Trump if he could explicitly disavow it.
“I know nothing about QAnon,” Trump began.
“I just told you,” Guthrie shot back.
“You told me, but that doesn’t necessarily make it fact,” Trump said.
‘You’re not somebody’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever,’ Guthrie told him as she pressed him on the issue.
Trump pivoted to railing against far-left “Antifa” demonstrators, whom law enforcement officials have blamed for violent attacks in cities across the U.S. “I know how they’re burning down cities run by Democrats, not run by Republicans,” Trump said.
Guthrie returned to QAnon. “I just don’t know about QAnon,” Trump said again.
“You do know,” she said. Trump replied: “I don’t know, I don’t know. You tell me about it, let’s waste the whole show. You start off with White supremacy, I denounce it. You start off with something else – let’s go, keep asking me these questions.”
“Why aren’t you asking me about Antifa?” Trump continued. “Why aren’t you asking me about the radical left?”
The event in Miami, less than three weeks out from Election Day, was hastily scheduled after the cancellation of the second presidential debate between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump had flatly refused to take part in that event after the commission sponsoring the debate opted to hold the second showing virtually, rather than in person.
In its place, Trump and Biden participated in dueling town halls, set in different states but held at the same time.
Trump’s town hall was aired on NBC, while Biden’s event was broadcast from Philadelphia on ABC.