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Explained: What we know about Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s competing town hall events

Trump and Biden were originally slated to square off in the second of three presidential debates in Miami on Friday. However, chaos ensued soon after Trump and several other top White House officials tested positive for Covid-19, throwing the entire election schedule into limbo.

By: Explained Desk | Margao |
Updated: October 19, 2020 12:57:33 pm
Explained: What we know about Trump and Biden’s competing town hall events

After the second debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic contender Joe Biden was called off by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the two candidates are now holding competing, nationally televised town hall events on Friday, where they will face a slew of tough questions from the American voters.

Trump and Biden were originally slated to square off in the second of three presidential debates in Miami on Friday. However, chaos ensued soon after President Trump and several other top White House officials tested positive for Covid-19, throwing the entire election schedule into limbo.

American voters will now have to choose between the two town hall events, as both will be aired live on different networks at the same time on Friday.

With less than 19 days to go before polling day, the duelling events will act as one of the final moments for each candidate to reach out to their voter base and swing undecided voters to their side.

Why was the second presidential debate cancelled?

The cancellation followed a heated back-and-forth between the Commission on Presidential Debates and both campaigns trying to finalise the debate schedule. After the campaigns failed to agree on a date for the upcoming presidential debate, the commission ultimately decided to call it off entirely.

“It is now apparent there will be no debate on October 15, and the CPD will turn its attention to preparations for the final presidential debate scheduled for October 22,” the commission said in a statement earlier this month.

Soon after Trump tested positive for Covid-19, the commission announced that the debate would be held virtually, with both candidates appearing from remote locations. However, Trump was quick to reject the plan, saying he would not “waste” his time on a virtual debate.

His campaign suggested pushing back the date of the debate by a week and postponing the final debate to October 29. But the Biden campaign categorically refused to agree to the suggested plan. “Donald Trump doesn’t make the debate schedule, the Debate Commission does,” Biden’s spokesperson Kate Bedingfield retorted.

By then, ABC News had already announced that it would be hosting a town hall event with former Vice President Biden. Later, NBC also released a schedule of a televised town hall with President Trump on the same day and at the same time as Biden’s event.

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How do town hall events work?

Unlike the traditional debate format where both contenders face questions from a single moderator, here the candidates will not be sharing a stage and will have to answer questions posed to them by an audience of voters.

In most cases, the network hosting the event screens the audience to ensure that all the voters who attend are undecided.

Both ABC and NBC have said that their events will be held in accordance with strict Covid-19 guidelines. NBC earlier stated that it only agreed to invite President Trump after he had submitted his coronavirus test results, which were reviewed by the US’ top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci.

Also in Explained | How important are the US presidential, vice-presidential debates?

What do we know about the two events?

President Donald Trump will field questions from a group of Florida voters at a town hall event organised by NBC and moderated by TODAY show anchor Savannah Guthrie on Friday. The event will last one hour and will take place outdoors at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami.

“Both Guthrie and the president will be at least 12 feet apart from both each other and the audience. The audience will also be socially-distanced and required to wear face masks while on the premises, answer a symptoms questionnaire and take a temperature check prior to entering the outdoor venue,” the news network wrote in a statement.

The event will follow the same format and will air at the same time as NBC News’ town hall with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, earlier this month.

With Trump trailing behind Biden in almost all major polls, the event will give him an opportunity to boost his standing to an extent. He is likely to face scathing questions about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, economic recovery, and his haste to nominate judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in a coinciding 90-minute town hall event, former Vice President Biden will face voters from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The discussion will be moderated by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

Around 21 voters from across the state of Pennsylvania with a wide range of political views will question Biden during the event on Friday.

Will there be another debate between Trump and Biden?

For now, there is another debate scheduled between the two candidates on October 23 in Nashville. The final face-off will follow the same format as the first debate — two candidates sharing a stage and one moderator asking the questions.

However, after the chaotic first debate the commission is yet to decide whether to alter the structure of the debate format to ensure a certain amount of order. Some have suggested instituting a mute button or a kill switch to prevent interruptions while one candidate is speaking.

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