Trump, Biden to deliver separate, simultaneous town halls

President Donald Trump declined to participate in the second U.S. presidential debate after it was changed to a virtual format. Instead, Mr. Trump and his challenger, Joe Biden, will host dueling town halls from Miami and Philadelphia on Thursday evening.

Olivier Douliery/Pool/Reuters
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 29, 2020. Dr. Anthony Fauci has approved Mr. Trump's participation in an Oct. 15 town hall after taking a coronavirus test.

NBC News agreed to put President Donald Trump before voters in a town hall event on Thursday after the president submitted to an independent coronavirus test with the results reviewed by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Democratic opponent Joe Biden is appearing on a similar town hall event on Thursday in Philadelphia, televised by ABC. The Trump announcement Wednesday sets up dueling town halls on a night the two candidates were originally supposed to meet for their second debate. 

The debate between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden was originally scheduled for Thursday in Miami by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, and was changed to a virtual format last week in light of the president’s recent coronavirus diagnosis. Mr. Trump then said he wouldn’t attend a virtual debate – with Mr. Trump in one room and Mr. Biden in another – leading to its cancelation.

NBC said Mr. Trump would be at least 12 feet from moderator Savannah Guthrie and the audience.

Mr. Trump, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 2 and spent three days at the Walter Reed military hospital, took a coronavirus test Tuesday administered by the National Institutes of Health, NBC said.

Both NIH clinical director Dr. Clifford Lane and Dr. Fauci reviewed Mr. Trump’s medical records and said they had a high degree of confidence that the president is “not shedding infectious virus.”

Mr. Trump’s ability to reach a national television audience on Thursday was in part dependent on Dr. Fauci, who had expressed anger at the Trump campaign in recent days for using one of his statements in a campaign ad. Dr. Fauci said a quote used in the campaign ad was taken out of context.

Both town halls will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern, but Mr. Biden will have the last word. The ABC event, moderated by George Stephanopoulos, will last 90 minutes with an additional half hour of analysis. Mr. Trump’s town hall on NBC is scheduled for an hour.

In addition to preventing viewers from getting a side-by-side comparison of the two men, the dueling events will likely be seen by far fewer people.

The first debate between the two men last month was watched by an estimated 73.1 million people, the Nielsen company said.

An estimated 6.7 million people saw Mr. Biden at an NBC News-sponsored town hall last week. Like the Trump event on Thursday will be, it was simulcast on MSNBC, CNBC, and streamed online.

Mr. Trump’s town hall with Mr. Stephanopoulos on Sept. 15 was seen by 3.8 million people, Nielsen said.

Thursday’s Trump town hall on NBC will be held outdoors at the Perez Art Museum in Miami. Audience members will be socially distanced, required to wear a mask and submit to a temperature check before entering the venue, NBC said.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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