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Trump and Biden town halls: highlights and analysis

The events were planned after Trump pulled out of Thursday's scheduled presidential debate.

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden held separate town halls Thursday night after Trump pulled out of the night's scheduled presidential debate last week.

Trump's event, held in Miami, aired on NBC with host Savannah Guthrie from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET. ABC aired Biden's event, hosted by George Stephanopoulos in Philadelphia, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. ET. Both segments were town hall-style, meaning the candidates took questions directly from voters.

Trump backed out of the second presidential debate scheduled for Thursday after organizers announced that it was going to be conducted virtually because of his recent Covid-19 diagnosis. The final presidential debate is scheduled for next Thursday, Oct. 22.

Read the latest updates below:

Biden fact check: Dissecting the 1994 crime bill's effect on mass incarceration

Biden, responding to a question about the 1994 crime bill, which he co-wrote as a senator, acknowledged that "it had a lot of other things in it that turned out to be both bad and good."

During a discussion with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Biden said that he was against the bill's provision that helped fund state prison systems — a provision that critics have frequently said contributed to "mass incarceration."

So what's this all about?

The 1994 crime bill earmarked billions for new prisons and encouraged states to keep criminals behind bars for years by offering special grants. It also instituted a federal "three-strikes" life sentence mandate, among other things. After the bill was enacted, crime dropped and incarceration rates skyrocketed.

"The crime bill, however, was just the most high-profile legislation to increase the number of people behind bars," New York University's Brennan Center for Justice concluded in a 2016 analysis. "On their own, states passed three-strikes laws, enacted mandatory minimums, eliminated parole, and removed judicial discretion in sentencing. By dangling bonus dollars, the crime bill encouraged states to remain on their tough-on-crime course."

Trump town hall wraps with few questions answered

Trump’s hour-long town hall lacked substantive answers about his policy agenda for the next four years, despite being given ample opportunity to lay out a vision for a second term. 

When asked how he would get the economy back on track, Trump said "It's happening." On health care, the president said "I want to give great health care." And on the DACA program, Trump said "we're going to take care of Dreamers."

In his final question, Guthrie asked Trump to tell the American people why he deserves another term.

"Because I've done a great job," Trump said. 

Biden doesn’t believe in political revenge, would let DOJ decide on any probe into Trump administration

If Biden wins, he will not call for an investigation into the Trump administration — he would leave that to the Justice Department to decide.

Biden said he does not believe in political revenge and unlike President Trump, would rely on a completely independent Justice Department and hire prosecutors that pick and choose their own cases based on the law. 

Trump has criticized the attorney general repeatedly and also pushed the traditionally nonpartisan department to go after rivals and represent him in personal lawsuits. 

It’s an important question given that former special counsel Robert Mueller laid out instances of obstruction of justice by the president in his report on Russian election interference but declined to prosecute.

Trump ends town hall with little mention of his opponent

Biden fact check: Do more cops mean less crime?

During an exchange about the 1994 crime bill that Biden co-authored, ABC News moderator George Stephanopolous noted that the bill "funded 100,000 police," prompting Biden to note that the officers placed on the streets conducted community policing, which caused crime to drop. 

"You've often said that more cops clearly mean less crime," Stephanopolous said. "Do you still believe that?

"Yes, if in fact they're involved in community policing, not jump squads," Biden replied. "For example, when we had community policing from the mid-90s on until Bush got elected, what happened? Violent crime actually went down precipitously."

Is that true?

Biden's fudging a bit here, according to government reports. The 1994 crime bill did help reduce violent crime, but whether that was a direct result of the bill's Office Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants has been disputed. Estimates also suggest that the COPS grants did not lead to a full 100,000 new police on the streets.

At passage, the crime bill aimed to put 100,000 more cops on the streets. A 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found the bill resulted in about 88,000 additional officers.

The 2005 GAO report found that COPS had a "modest" effect on the drop in violent crime but noted "factors other than COPS funds accounted for the majority of the decline in crime during this period."

Fact check: Trump wrongly suggests the U.S. was facing 42 percent unemployment

“We just hit a record, 11.4 million jobs,” Trump said Thursday, pointing to recent job gains after historic pandemic losses. “So people were saying we're going to have a 42 percent unemployment. Look, this was a thing that came into our country, and it happened 100 — more than 100 years ago, and it happened now. We're talking about a 42 percent unemployment rate.”

He continued: “Just came out at 7.8 percent unemployment and people can't even believe it.”

The president is wildly inflating the economy’s successes here, as well as projections for the unemployment rate. The U.S. has replaced 11.4 million of the 22 million jobs that were lost in March and April because of the pandemic, though job growth is slowing and economic predictors suggest the recovery may be slowing.

But the U.S. was never facing 42 percent unemployment — economists predicted 20 percent unemployment. Additionally, this isn't the first time 42 percent unemployment has made its way into a false economic claim by the president. Back in 2015, Trump falsely claimed the “real” unemployment rate was 42 percent; at the time, it was 5.1 percent, PolitiFact reported.

Trump says he did not talk to Barrett about election, Roe v. Wade

Trump said he never spoke with Judge Amy Coney Barrett about how she would vote if the results of the election were contested in the Supreme Court. 

“I think she will have to make that decision. I don't think she has any conflict at all,” Trump said. “I never asked her about it. I never talked to her about it.” 

Trump said he also never talked to Barrett about how she would vote on a challenge to Roe v. Wade, but refused to say where he personally stood on abortion rights. 

“I don't want to do anything to influence anything right now,” Trump said. 

Trump in 2016 said he would appoint judges who would strike down the landmark abortion ruling.

Biden dodges court packing question, but repeats he's 'not a fan'

Biden continued to dodge questions about his position on court packing when asked about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. 

The former vice president stuck to his talking point that he would not talk ad nauseam about adding additional justices to the court because it would be a distraction from what he suggested is a hypocritical process by the Republicans. 

Biden previously said he does not like court packing and conceded at tonight’s town hall that he is “not a fan,” but said he will let voters know his full position depending on how the Senate handles Barrett’s confirmation.

He said her nomination puts health care and other issues in jeopardy.

Mary Trump, Trump's niece, responds to Guthrie's 'crazy uncle' comment

Fact check: Trump's claims on voter fraud, ballots 'dumped in dumpsters'

In response to a question about accepting the results of the 2020 election, Trump insisted Thursday that voter fraud was rampant. 

"When I see thousands of ballots, right, unsolicited ballots being given out by the millions and thousands of them are dumped in dumpsters and when you see ballots with the name — Trump military ballots from our great military and they're dumped in garbage cans," he said.

Moderator Savannah Guthrie pointed out that the president was referring to anecdotal reports, adding, "Your own FBI director said there's no evidence of widespread fraud."

Trump responded: “Oh, really? Then he's not doing a great job. 50,000 in Ohio, the great state of Ohio. 50,000 in another location, I think North Carolina. 500,000 applications in Virginia. No, no. There's a tremendous problem.”

This is not true. Numerous studies have debunked the notion that there is substantial, widespread voter fraud in American elections, whether those elections are conducted predominantly by mail or otherwise.

Trump is citing election infrastructure errors — like 50,000 flawed absentee ballots sent out in one county in Ohio and later reprinted by officials, or a half million absentee ballot application that were mailed by a nonpartisan group encouraging mail voting that included inaccurate return mailing addresses — as proof of fraud, instead of what they are, which is errors and inefficiencies.

There have been reports of misdirected ballots found in dumpsters — like 100 blank ballots found in Kentucky — but that does not automatically indicate fraud. There are numerous safeguards in place, such as signature matching, to ensure that only eligible voters can cast a ballot.

There's no reason to believe either of these errors will result in fraudulent ballots being counted. Only verified and registered voters can cast a mail ballot. 

Biden given, and taking, plenty of time to answer questions

As voters ask Biden a question on a variety of topics, Biden has been able to answer the questions at great length with very little interference from the moderator. 

Stephanopoulos has interjected and pressed Biden further, but the floor largely belongs to Biden as he interacts with voters.

It could be good prep to hone his answers for the next presidential debate a week from today.