What to Know
- Tuesday at the National Constitution Center, President Trump answered questions from an audience of just 21 voters to comply with state and local coronavirus regulations.
- During the town hall, Trump denied that he had downplayed the threat of the coronavirus earlier this year, although there is an audio recording of him stating he did just that.
- Trump also cast doubt on the widely accepted scientific conclusions of his own administration strongly urging the use of face coverings and seemed to bat away the suggestion that the nation has racial inequities.
President Donald Trump took part in a town hall-style event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
Trump arrived at Philadelphia International Airport at 5 p.m. after departing the White House about 3:15 p.m.
Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby and Republican state Rep. Martina White, who represents the northeast section of the city, greeted Trump at the airport.
The latest news on the 2020 presidential election
The president then held a town hall event at Independence Hall.
The event, hosted by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, was a warmup of sorts before Trump faces Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the first presidential debate on Sept. 29. Taped at the National Constitution Center, it featured Trump taking questions from an audience of just 21 voters to comply with state and local coronavirus regulations.
During the town hall, Trump denied that he had downplayed the threat of the coronavirus earlier this year, although there is an audio recording of him stating he did just that.
Trump cast doubt on the widely accepted scientific conclusions of his own administration strongly urging the use of face coverings and seemed to bat away the suggestion that the nation has racial inequities.
“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump said when asked about his campaign rhetoric seeming to ignore the historical injustices carried out against Black Americans.
Face-to-face with everyday voters for the first time in months, as his three live showdowns with Democrat Joe Biden loom, Trump was pressed on his administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and why he doesn't more aggressively promote the use of masks to reduce the spread of the disease.
“There are people that don’t think masks are good,” Trump said, though his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly urges their use.
Trump sought to counter his admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he was deliberately “playing it down” when discussing the threat of COVID-19 to Americans earlier this year. Despite audio of his comments being released, Trump said: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action."
“My action was very strong,” Trump added. “I’m not looking to be dishonest. I don’t want people to panic.”
Trump also insisted he was not wrong when he praised China's response to the virus in January and February, saying he trusted Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader. “He told me that it was under control, that everything was and it turned out to be not true,” Trump said,
The questions from uncommitted voters were pointed and poignant: a diabetic man who said he felt he’d been thrown “under the bus” by mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic; a Black woman with a disease that left her uninsurable until the Obama health care law came along who is worried that she could lose coverage again; a Black pastor who questioned Trump’s campaign motto to “Make America Great Again.”
“When has America been great for African Americans in the ghetto of America?” the pastor asked.
The visit to Pennsylvania is Trump’s second to the battleground state in the last week, after he attended a Sept. 11 memorial event in Shanksville on Friday.
After taping the town hall, Trump left Philadelphia around 7 p.m.
A group of about 100 Trump protesters gathered outside the Constitution Center by 5 p.m. ahead of the president's appearance.
"We are not welcoming him here," Olivia Jones, one of the protesters, told NBC10. "We have to show up and take to the streets peacefully that we will not tolerate it."
Trump supporters, including David Derosier, also gathered nearby with some even having conversations with the protesters.
"There are Trump supporters out here and we're not afraid anymore to say that we're here," Derosier told NBC10.
Derosier also said however he wasn't sure why the president came to Philadelphia.
"I think he should work more on the battleground state and go out where more of the supporters are" Derosier said. "Right here he might just be causing a mess."
With 319 murders in the city as of Monday, Trump has previously called out Philadelphia for not being tough enough on crime. He told McNesby he supports the police and for him to pass that message on to the rank and file.
Many of the protesters who gathered Tuesday called for police reform.
"I know it's something he has to do as far as politics and campaigning but I find it terrible," Lynn Darby, one of the protesters, told NBC10. "He doesn't understand most of Philadelphia's values from my experience."
Another protester, Yolanda Hughes, said she was there for her late husband Troy who died of complications from COVID-19.
"He has divided our country," Hughes said. "He has not told the truth. He has lied to us and it's time to go."