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US Election 2020

Trump and Biden to face off in rival TV town halls instead of debate

With the incumbent president's reluctance to hold virtual debates with his opponent, two of the US' biggest TV channels will broadcast town-hall meetings for each of them at the same time.
With the incumbent president's reluctance to hold virtual debates with his opponent, two of the US' biggest TV channels will broadcast town-hall meetings for each of them at the same time. AP - Patrick Semansky

US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden will go head-to-head Thursday night in competing town hall events instead of at a presidential debate, forcing viewers to choose between them.

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The two were originally meant to have been meeting for their second debate on Thursday evening.

But then Trump got sick with the coronavirus and the Commission on Presidential Debates decided to shift the debate to a virtual setting due to safety concerns.

Trump refused to participate virtually and the debate got cancelled altogether.

Now the candidates will face off in competing town hall meetings via two separate broadcast news channels, setting up the awkward prospect of having to compete for ratings.

Trump will feature in a televised town hall in Miami on NBC news, while Biden, who had already planned his own version, will feature on ABC.

Out of danger

Their scheduled debate had also been designed as a town hall where the two candidates would have fielded questions from voters, but this was upended after Trump contracted Covid-19.

The president's personal physician, Dr. Sean Conley, has said Trump, who was diagnosed with the virus on 2 October, is no longer infectious.

Trump also received the blessing of the country's top expert on infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci, who said he had "a high degree of confidence" that the president is now "not shedding infectious virus."

Trump and NBC host Savannah Gutrie will be socially distanced at the outdoor venue Thursday and the audience will wear safety masks, the network said.

Immunity claim

The Republican president, who is trailing his Democratic challenger by double digits in the polls, returned to the campaign trail on Monday after being confined in the White House and a hospital for 10 days.

Greeted by cheering supporters in key swing state Florida, Trump said: “I went through it and now they say I’m immune,” although his claim to immunity is unproven.

Unlike Trump, Biden has been following public health guidelines during the pandemic, hosting socially distanced campaign events that sharply contrast with Trump’s packed, largely maskless extravaganzas.

The Democrat has been frequently tested for coronavirus and reported negative results.

The final presidential debate is scheduled for 22 October at Belmont University in Nashville with testing, masking and social distancing protocols in place, NBC has said.

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