Trump town hall in Pa.: 3 takeaways from the president on covid, racism and the military
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President Donald J. Trump has taken a lot of questions from the media recently about what he knew about the coronavirus and when he knew it, whether he called soldiers "suckers" and "losers," and what he will do about racial injustice.
But on Tuesday night, he answered questions from the people during a "20/20" town hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The 90-minute session began at 9 p.m. and was hosted by George Stephanopoulos, chief anchor for ABC News.
ABC News said it offered a similar town hall to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, but it couldn't agree to a time with the campaign.
Biden is doing a CNN town hall at 8 p.m. Thursday in Scranton, hosted by anchor Anderson Cooper.
Both town halls this week further emphasize the importance of battleground Pennsylvania in this year's election.
"Right now, Pennsylvania looks like the single most important state of the 2020 election," FiveThirtyEight reported on Tuesday. "Pennsylvania is by far the likeliest state to provide either President Trump or Joe Biden with the decisive vote in the Electoral College: It has a 31 percent chance of being the tipping-point state."
Here are some key moments from Trump's town hall that ended at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday:
Trump said he didn't downplay the coronavirus
Despite recently released audio of the president saying he downplayed the virus because he didn't want to create a panic, Trump on Tuesday night said he didn't do that.
"I didn't downplay it. I, actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action," Trump said. "My action was very strong."
The U.S. would've recorded 2 million deaths without his leadership, the president said, and he had no regrets about his pandemic response.
"I think we did a great job," Trump said.
As of Tuesday night, the U.S. has more than 6.6 million cases and nearly 200,000 COVID-19 deaths.
The president repeated a prediction he made in March that the virus would disappear on its own.
"It is going to disappear. It's going to disappear, I still say it," Trump said.
Trump said he never made disparaging comments about the military
The president said reporting in The Atlantic that described him as calling troops "suckers" and "losers" was "fake."
"I never made those statements," Trump said.
On the contrary, Trump said his actions during his first term show how he feels about the military.
"I have done so much for our vets and for our military," the president said. "I rebuilt our military."
Trump said when he came into office, the military was "in the worst shape it was in probably ever." Planes and ships were old and broken, he said.
The president said he rebuilt the military to the tune of $2.5 trillion.
When Stephanopoulos asked Trump how he would respond to characterizations from former National Security Advisor John Bolton and former defense Secretary James Mattis that he's unfit for office, the president called them "disgruntled employees."
"Mattis was a highly overrated general," Trump said. "He didn't do the job. He didn't do good on ISIS. John Bolton, all he wanted to do is blow people up."
Trump takes questions on racism and "Make America Great Again" slogan
Philadelphia Pastor Carl Day questioned the president on his campaign slogan and challenged him to recognize systemic racism in America.
"When was America great for African Americans?" the pastor said.
Day, a Black man who said he voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016, said the decades of racism mean returning to a "great" time in the past wouldn't be great for Black Americans who suffered through inequality.
"That pushes us back to a time in which we cannot identify with such 'greatness,'" Day said. "You've said everything else about choking and everything else, but you have yet to address and acknowledge that there has been a race problem in America."
The president responded by saying, "I hope there's not a race problem. 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."
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Before the pandemic, Black people had record homeownership and the "the best unemployment numbers they've ever had in the Black community, by far."
Stephanopoulos told Trump that Black Americans are about three times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police, and the anchor asked the president what he would do about that number.
"Well, I think they were tragic events, and I do feel that we have to also take into consideration that if you look at our police they do a phenomenal job," Trump said.
"You'll have people choke, make mistakes and they happen, it happens, where they have to make a fast decision and some bad things happen."
Trump said there are "bad apples" on police forces, but 99 percent are "great people."
Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.