Trump Denies Downplaying Virus, Despite Woodward Recording


President Donald Trump denied during a televised town hall Tuesday that he had played down the threat of the coronavirus earlier this year, although there is an audio recording of him stating he did so.

Trump participated in the event with uncommitted voters, hosted by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, in a warmup of sorts two weeks before he faces Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the first presidential debate. Taped at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, it featured Trump taking questions from an audience of just 21 voters to comply with state and local coronavirus regulations. It marked Trump’s first time facing direct questions from voters in months, and an opportunity for the Republican to test-drive his message before the critical debates.

In an exchange with one voter, 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 told the voter: “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, according to ABC.

A voter who said he voted for Trump in 2016 said he trusted the president on his COVID-19 response up until May.

“I’m conservative, pro-life and diabetic,” the man, identified as Paul, said. “I’ve had to dodge people who don’t care about social distancing and wearing face masks. I thought you were doing a good job with the pandemic response until about May 1st. Then you took your foot off the gas pedal. Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?”

Trump insisted he didn’t. 

“We’ve worked very hard on the pandemic,” Trump said, pointing to work with ventilators early, and now with vaccines. “If you want to know the truth, the previous administration would have taken, perhaps years to have a vaccine because of the FDA and all the approvals and we’re within weeks of getting it.

Questioned by a 2016 Hillary Clinton voter about why he doesn’t support mask-wearing more strongly, Trump said he does wear them in hospitals and when he must. But he said some people say mask-wearing isn’t good, pointing to waiters he says he’s seen playing with masks before touching plates they then serve.

Trump has been unusually mum on his debate preparations ahead of the first debate, scheduled for Sept. 29 in Cleveland. On Tuesday, he told Fox News that he believes his day job is the best practice for his three scheduled showdowns with Biden.

“Well, I sort of prepare every day by just doing what I’m doing,” Trump said. He noted that he had been in California on Monday and had been to other states before that to make the point that he’s getting out and about more than Biden.

Trump, in the Fox interview, lowered expectations for his Democratic opponent’s performance, judging Biden “a disaster” and “grossly incompetent” in the primary debates. He assessed Biden as “OK” and “fine” in his final one-on-one debate with Bernie Sanders before clinching the nomination.

Trump’s rhetoric on Biden marked a departure from the traditional efforts by candidates to talk up their rivals’ preparation for televised debates, in hopes of setting an unattainably high bar for their performance.

The second of the three scheduled debates, set to be held in Miami on Oct. 15, will feature a similar “town meeting” style.

Biden is to have his own opportunity to hone his skills taking questions from voters on Thursday, when he participates in a televised town hall hosted by CNN.

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.

Newsmax’s Greg Richter contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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