President Trump has begun his NBC News town hall event in Miami, competing with the event Joseph R. Biden Jr. is holding simultaneously.
The first question from the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, was about Mr. Trump’s coronavirus infection. Asked how severe his symptoms had been and whether tests had shown pneumonia, he deflected, saying vaguely that the doctors had said his lungs were “a little bit different, a little perhaps infected.” He also said that he “possibly” took a test the day of the first presidential debate, as was required.
Mr. Trump scheduled the event at the last minute, and NBC has drawn criticism for agreeing to host it at the same time as Mr. Biden’s. Mr. Trump’s campaign chose to withdraw from the debate that had been scheduled for Thursday night after the debate commission changed it to a virtual format in response to the president’s coronavirus infection.
With less than three weeks to go until Election Day, and millions of voters already casting ballots by mail and at early-voting sites, Mr. Trump is trailing badly in polls both nationally and in crucial swing states, and he is quickly running out of time to catch up.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has begun his town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Mr. Biden’s campaign scheduled the event, moderated by the ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos, after President Trump refused to participate in their second debate, originally scheduled for Thursday night, because the Commission on Presidential Debates made it a virtual event following Mr. Trump’s positive coronavirus test.
Mr. Biden enters Thursday’s town hall with polling leads in nearly every battleground state and a double-digit advantage in national surveys. He and his campaign have gone to great lengths in recent weeks to avoid making significant news, choosing instead to focus attention on Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
The few instances of Mr. Biden breaking through have come with his steadfast refusal to articulate a position on adding justices to the Supreme Court, a proposal he was opposed to during the Democratic primary but has mostly declined to address in recent weeks.
The presidential candidates are responding to questions from voters in prime time on Thursday at two live, nationally televised town-hall-style events. Unusually, the programs are being broadcast at the same time on rival networks, although recordings of each event will be available afterward.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. is appearing at an ABC News forum held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and moderated by the ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos. The 90-minute event began at 8 p.m. Eastern time and will be followed by a 30-minute wrap-up featuring analysis from ABC political reporters and pundits.
About 20 voters from across Pennsylvania, of varying political views, are on hand to ask Mr. Biden questions. Mr. Stephanopoulos is guiding the discussion and asking follow-up questions.
Mr. Biden’s town hall can be seen on ABC television stations and on ABC News Live, an online service that can be watched on Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV and other streaming platforms, as well as on the ABC News website.
President Trump’s NBC News event is being held outdoors at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami and is being moderated by the “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie. The broadcast started at 8 p.m. Eastern and is expected to last for about an hour.
About 60 Florida voters are in the audience to ask the president questions; some of the voters are undecided, and some are leaning toward supporting one of the candidates. NBC said it was not discussing the question topics in advance.
The Trump town hall is airing on NBC broadcast affiliates and the cable channels CNBC and MSNBC. It is also being streamed on NBC News NOW, an online service available on numerous streaming platforms, and available to watch on demand after the broadcast on Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming service.
The event is also available in Spanish on the digital sites of Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network.
Stars and producers of hit NBC series — along with Rachel Maddow, the highest-rated anchor on MSNBC — have joined those assailing NBC News over its decision to air a town hall event with President Trump at 8 p.m. on Thursday, the same time ABC will offer a forum with his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Ms. Maddow, one of the few NBC News anchors with the clout to publicly chastise the network’s executives, raised the issue on her Wednesday show, asking Mr. Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, if she “was as mad as everybody else is that NBC is doing a town hall with President Trump tomorrow.” (Ms. Harris demurred.)
The anchor also called NBC’s scheduling decision “as odd as you think it is” alongside a graphic that said, “Apparently They Are Not Kidding.”
On Thursday, more than 100 actors and producers — including Sterling K. Brown and Mandy Moore, both of the NBC hit “This Is Us,” and Mariska Hargitay of the NBC staple “Law & Order: SVU” — sent a letter to NBC management calling the scheduling of the forum “a disservice to the American public.”
Four years ago the news division faced criticism for allowing The Washington Post to scoop it on the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape that showed Mr. Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women; NBC News had obtained a copy of the video days before it was made public.
The division’s current leader, Cesar Conde, previously ran Telemundo and Univision. Mr. Conde, who has limited experience with the rough-and-tumble of political coverage, issued a statement on Thursday addressing the criticism.
“We share in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden. Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations,” he wrote. “We aired a town hall with Vice President Biden on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. If we were to move our town hall with President Trump to a later time slot, we would be violating our commitment to offer both campaigns access to the same audience and the same forum.”
Savannah Guthrie, an anchor on “Today,” will be the moderator, overseeing a group of inquisitive Florida voters while keeping tabs on a president who regularly lobs falsehoods and smears.
As Ms. Guthrie prepared for her hot-seat moment, one of her “Today” predecessors declared that NBC had made the wrong call. “Having dueling town halls is bad for democracy — voters should be able to watch both and I don’t think many will,” Katie Couric wrote on Twitter.
Before the first presidential debate last month, the polling picture looked bad for President Trump. Afterward, it looked even worse.
That is partly because so many voters were turned off by his bellicose performance at the debate, telling pollsters in overwhelming numbers that they had disapproved of his attacks on Joseph R. Biden Jr.
And the president’s Covid-19 infection, announced just days later, didn’t help either: Most Americans held him at least partly responsible for it, saying he had not taken the virus’s threat seriously enough, according to surveys.
As a result, what had been roughly a seven-point lead for Mr. Biden in national polling averages in late September quickly expanded. His average lead has now grown into the double digits.
In an ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted after the president announced he had Covid-19, more than seven in 10 Americans said that he had not taken the risk of infection seriously enough, and that he hadn’t taken proper health precautions.
In both Florida and Pennsylvania, races that had looked competitive are now tipping more decisively toward Mr. Biden, according to polls by Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University conducted this month as the coronavirus flared back up in parts of the country — including at the White House — and Mr. Trump announced he had tested positive.
In each of those polls, Mr. Biden posted double-digit leads over Mr. Trump in the horse race. No credible poll of either state has put Mr. Trump in the lead since last month’s debate.
Mr. Trump also tends to trail Mr. Biden significantly on matters of empathy, and the former vice president often links Mr. Trump’s struggle to show compassion with his botched coronavirus response. “The only senior that Donald Trump cares about — the only senior — is senior Donald Trump,” Mr. Biden told a crowd at a community center Broward County, Fla., earlier this week.
The Quinnipiac poll of Florida found that 54 percent of likely voters said the president doesn’t care “about average Americans,” whereas 59 percent said that Mr. Biden does. In Pennsylvania, 55 percent said Mr. Trump doesn’t and 63 percent said Mr. Biden does.
Of course, the split-screen political theater of tonight’s town hall events presents a challenge for candidates seeking to persuade voters who might be disinclined to support them. Not until polls emerge in the coming days will we know whether many voters even tuned in to watch a candidate with the intention of having their vote choice changed.
Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, castigated President Trump in a telephone town hall with constituents on Wednesday, accusing the president of bungling the response to the coronavirus pandemic, cozying up to dictators and white supremacists, and offending voters so broadly that he might cause a “Republican blood bath” in the Senate.
In a dire, nine-minute indictment of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy and what Mr. Sasse called his “deficient” values, the senator said the president had mistreated women and alienated important allies around the globe, been a profligate spender, ignored human rights and treated the pandemic like a “P.R. crisis.” He predicted that a loss by Mr. Trump on Election Day, less than three weeks away, “looks likely,” and said that Republicans would face steep repercussions for having backed him so staunchly over four tumultuous years.
“The debate is not going to be, ‘Ben Sasse, why were you so mean to Donald Trump?’” Mr. Sasse said, according to audio obtained by The Washington Examiner and authenticated by The New York Times. “It’s going to be, ‘What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?’”
“We are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami,” he added.
Mr. Sasse also hinted at more drastic consequences: a “Venezuela style” Supreme Court with dozens of justices installed by ascendant Democrats; an empowered China ruling the Pacific because of Mr. Trump’s “weak” policies; and American allies doubting whether they can “trust in U.S. strength and U.S. will.”
Mr. Sasse’s critique played out over just a few short minutes after someone on the call asked the senator about his previous criticisms of Mr. Trump. The senator, who styles himself as a principled conservative, has never pretended to be a fan of the president. But even compared with his earlier remarks, his comments during the call were remarkably scathing.
“The way he kisses dictators’ butts,” Mr. Sasse said, listing his reservations about Mr. Trump. “I mean, the way he ignores that the Uighurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong-Kongers.”
He continued: “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor.”
Mr. Trump, he added, “mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”
Mr. Sasse, who is up for re-election on Nov. 3, has never made a secret of his distaste for Mr. Trump. During the 2016 campaign, he compared Mr. Trump to David Duke and said he was not voting for him. In office, he called Mr. Trump’s signature trade war with China “nuts.”
But he had toned down his criticism in recent years, earning a crucial endorsement from the president he once savaged.
Mr. Sasse told constituents during the call that he was concerned the president’s failures and “stupid political obsessions” would empower Democrats.
“If young people become permanent Democrats because they’ve just been repulsed by the obsessive nature of our politics, or if women who were willing to still vote with the Republican Party in 2016 decide that they need to turn away from this party permanently in the future,” Mr. Sasse.
Mr. Sasse did not exactly try to keep his criticism quiet. James Wegmann, a spokesman who confirmed his comments, said 17,000 Nebraskans had been invited to participate in the call, though it does not appear to have been open to the general public.
Mr. Wegmann said that Mr. Sasse would remain focused on Senate races. “I don’t know how many more times we can shout this,” Mr. Wegmann said. “Even though the Beltway is obsessing exclusively about the presidential race, control of the Senate is 10 times more important.”
President Trump called Facebook and Twitter “terrible” and “a monster” and said he would go after them. Senators Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn said they would subpoena the chief executives of the companies for their actions. And on Fox News, prominent conservative hosts blasted the social media platforms as “monopolies” and accused them of “censorship” and election interference.
On Thursday, simmering discontent among Republicans over the power that Facebook and Twitter wield over public discourse erupted into open acrimony. Republicans slammed the companies and baited them a day after the sites limited or blocked the distribution of an unsubstantiated New York Post article about Hunter Biden, the son of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The criticism did not stop the companies. Twitter locked the personal account of Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, late Wednesday after she posted the article, and on Thursday it briefly blocked a link to a House Judiciary Committee webpage. The Trump campaign said Twitter had also locked its official account after it tried promoting the article. Twitter then doubled down by prohibiting the spread of a different New York Post article about the Bidens.
The actions brought the already frosty relationship between conservatives and the companies to a new low point, less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election, in which the social networks are expected to play a significant role. It offered a glimpse at how online conversations could go awry on Election Day and underlined how the companies have little handle on how to consistently enforce what they will allow on their sites.
“There will be battles for control of the narrative again and again over coming weeks,” said Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School who studies social media companies. “The way the platforms handled it is not a good harbinger of what’s to come.”
Facebook declined to comment on Thursday and pointed to its comments on Wednesday when it said the New York Post article, which made unverified claims about Hunter Biden’s business in Ukraine, was eligible for third-party fact-checking.
In a tweet, Twitter said, “We recognize that Twitter is just one of many places where people can find information online, and the Twitter Rules are intended to protect the conversation on our service, and to add context to people’s experience where we can.”
Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday that “it is only the beginning” for the social media companies. He followed up on Thursday by saying he wanted to “strip them” of some of their liability protections.
Caroline Giuliani, the daughter of Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer and the former mayor of New York, on Thursday endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr. for president, writing in Vanity Fair that “the only way to end this nightmare is to vote.”
Ms. Giuliani, who describes herself as a “filmmaker in the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community,” long ago broke with her father politically. In 2008, when she was 17 years old and her father was running for president, she posted on Facebook that she was a “liberal” and joined a group called “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack).”
In 2016, she endorsed Hillary Clinton. This year, she has chosen to add her voice to the discourse at a time when Mr. Giuliani is again embroiled in a campaign to tarnish a Democratic presidential candidate. Mr. Biden is the target this time, of unsubstantiated allegations that his team has dismissed as a disinformation campaign.
“If being the daughter of a polarizing mayor who became the president’s personal bulldog has taught me anything,” Ms. Giuliani writes, “it is that corruption starts with ‘yes-men’ and women, the cronies who create an echo chamber of lies and subservience to maintain their proximity to power.”
She added: “We’ve seen this ad nauseam with Trump and his cadre of high-level sycophants (the ones who weren’t convicted, anyway).”
Ms. Giuliani, in her essay, acknowledged that Mr. Biden was not her first-choice candidate in the Democratic primary. But she said progressive voters who care about climate change, or the rights of women, immigrants and people of color, couldn’t afford to let lukewarm feelings keep them home.
“If I, after decades of despair over politics, can engage in our democracy to meet this critical moment,” she said, “I know you can too.”