Fielding questions about voters’ real-world problems, President Donald Trump has denied during a televised town hall that he played down the coronavirus threat despite a recording of him stating he did.
Trump cast doubt on the widely accepted scientific conclusions of his own administration strongly urging the use of face coverings and seemed to bat away suggestions the nation has racial inequities.
“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump said when asked about his campaign rhetoric seeming to ignore historical injustices carried out against black Americans.
Face-to-face with everyday voters for the first time in months on Tuesday, Trump was defensive but resisted agitation when pressed on his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and why he doesn’t more aggressively promote the use of masks.
“There are people that don’t think masks are good,” Trump said, though his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly urges their use.
The event, hosted by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, was a warmup before Trump faces Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the first presidential debate on September 29.
Taped at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, it featured him taking questions from an audience of just 21 voters to comply with state and local coronavirus regulations.
Trump sought to counter his admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he was deliberately “playing it down” when discussing the threat of COVID-19 to Americans earlier this year.
Despite audio of his comments being released, he said: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action.”
“My action was very strong,” Trump added.
“I’m not looking to be dishonest. I don’t want people to panic.”
Trump also insisted he was not wrong when he praised China’s response to the virus in January and February, saying he trusted Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.
“He told me that it was under control, that everything was and it turned out to be not true,” Trump said,
Trump also suggested the virus would disappear without a vaccine, claiming the nation would develop a herd immunity with time but he didn’t mention the lives that would be lost along the way.
“It’s going to be herd-developed and that’s going to happen. That will all happen,” Trump said.
“But with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly.”
The questions from uncommitted voters were pointed and poignant: a diabetic man who said he felt he’d been thrown “under the bus” by mishandling of the pandemic; a black woman with a disease that left her uninsurable until the Obama health care law came along worried she will lose coverage again; a black pastor who questioned Trump’s campaign motto to “Make America Great Again”.
Asked about what he was doing to address protests against racial injustice, Trump lamented a “lack of respect” and the absence of “retribution” for those who clash with or carry out attacks against police officers.