Oct. 15 — After backing out of a virtual debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden, President Donald Trump participated in a town hall event in Miami on Thursday night, where he was pressed by questions on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court and healthcare.
Trump’s one-hour town hall event was held outdoors at Miami’s Perez Art Museum and was moderated by NBC host Savannah Guthrie.
Trump said he shifted his opinion on Supreme Court nominations after witnessing Justice Brett Kavanaugh being “treated so badly” during his confirmation process.
Trump cited Kavanaugh’s hearing, after being asked by Guthrie why he chose to nominate conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court after previously saying former President Barack Obama should not have made a nomination to the court before the 2016 election.
“The whole ball game changed when I saw the way they treated Justice Kavanaugh,” Trump said of the process where Kavanaugh faced allegations of sexual assault. “I have never seen any human being, and I’m not just talking about Supreme Court … I have never seen a human being treated so badly with false accusations and everything else.”
The Senate judiciary committee on Thursday set Oct. 22 as the date it will vote whether to recommend Barrett’s nomination to the full chamber following four days of testimony.
Trump, when asked if he expected Barrett to vote in his favor if the result of November’s election is placed before the Supreme Court said he “never asked her” about the issue.
“It would be totally up to her. I think that she would be able to rule either for me or against me, I don’t see any conflict whatsoever,” Trump said.
The president also answered similarly when asked if he would like to see Barrett overturn the landmark abortion case Roe vs. Wade, declining to comment as he said it would be “inappropriate” to potentially influence her ruling.
“I would like to see a brilliant jurist, a brilliant person, who has done this in great depth and has actually skirted this issue for a long time to make a decision. And that’s why I chose her,” Trump said. “I think she’s going to make a great decision.”
Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participated in competing town halls on separate networks Thursday night as the president refused to take part in a virtual debate requested by the Commission on Presidential Debates after he tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of this month.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump said at the time. “The commission changed the debate style and that’s not acceptable to us.”
During the town hall, Trump said that he could not recall if he was tested for COVID-19 before the first debate with Biden in late September, days before he tested positive for the virus.
Trump said he “possibly” was tested before the debate but could not say for sure.
“If you ask the doctor they’ll give you a perfect answer … but they take a test and I leave and I go about my business,” said Trump.
Trump also said that he had no remaining symptoms of COVID-19, 10 days after being discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he received three days of treatment for the virus.
“I’m great, I feel good,” the president said, noting he has held rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina since his release.
Trump did not expressly state if he experienced pneumonia after testing positive for the virus, saying doctors told him his lungs were “a little bit different, a little bit perhaps infected,” without clarifying what the infection was.
The president added that he was admitted to the hospital at the encouragement of his doctors following the positive test.
“I didn’t feel good, I didn’t feel strong, I had a little bit of a temperature. The doctors at the White House are fantastic, as you can imagine. They really didn’t want to take a chance and they said ‘Let’s go to the hospital,'” Trump said.
Trump also weighed in on ongoing negotiations for another round of economic stimulus in response to the pandemic, blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for the holdup but signaling that the White House is prepared for a deal.
“Nancy Pelosi, we are ready to sign and pass stimulus,” he said.
Last week, Trump called for an end to negotiations but quickly changed course, urging Republicans to “go big” and saying he would support a larger sum than both parties have proposed.
Democrats have remained steadfast in their push for a $2.2 trillion deal including funding for state and local governments, while Republicans have called for a smaller, more focused release package.
Trump on Thursday night however claimed that Republicans would support a larger bill if he and Pelosi are able to reach a deal.
“If Nancy Pelosi and I, through my representatives or directly, I don’t care … if we agree to something, the Republicans will agree to it,” he said.
Responding to a question from a voter, Trump repeated his 2016 campaign pledge that he would “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, while promising to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.
“The problem with Obamacare [is that] it’s not good, we’d like to terminate it and we want much less expensive healthcare, that’s a much better healthcare and that’s what we’re aiming for,” Trump said.
Guthrie questioned Trump about his administration’s failure to pass a replacement for the healthcare legislation put in place by his predecessor, despite Republicans holding both chambers of Congress early in his presidency.
“If we don’t succeed, we are running the remnants of whatever is left … much better than the previous administration, which ran it very badly,” Trump said.
Trump was also asked about a Supreme Court case set for a week after the election regarding a challenge to the constitutionality of the law, threatening to scrap the program and the protections for people with pre-existing conditions included in it.
He touted the removal of the individual mandate, which requires people to carry a minimum level of health insurance coverage with a tax penalty imposed against those who do not comply, as part of Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
In September, Trump signed a series of orders that “laid out his vision” for a healthcare system he called the America First Healthcare Plan, including guaranteeing care for people with pre-existing conditions that was largely seen as a symbolic gesture.
Trump on Thursday repeated claims about fraud related to mail-in ballots when asked whether he would peacefully transfer power if defeated in November’s elections.
Guthrie countered his claims, citing testimony by FBI Director Christopher Wray last month in which he stated there was no evidence of a “coordinated national voter fraud effort” and that it would be a “major challenge for an adversary” to carry out such fraud.
The president responded that if that was the case then he believes Wray is “not doing a very good job.”
He also accused Democrats of spying on his 2016 campaign and decried impeachment proceedings at the beginning of the year regarding his interactions with Ukraine as an attempt to remove him from office.
“They tried to take down a duly elected, sitting president and then they talk about ‘Will you accept a peaceful transfer?'” Trump said. “And the answer is yes, I will. But I want it to be an honest election and so does everybody else.”