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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:

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5 takeaways from Trump and Biden's dueling town halls

Trump and Biden were in different cities for the dueling town halls Thursday that replaced their debate. But they may as well have been in different universes.

Replacing the presidential debate with competing conversations with voters was a fitting symbol of a politically divided and socially distanced America. Instead of speaking to, or even shouting at, each other, Trump and Biden spoke past one another on different networks, allowing Americans to choose a favored candidate to describe reality as they want to see it.

The town halls hosted by NBC in Miami for Trump and ABC in Philadelphia for Biden are unlikely to attract nearly the audience a debate would, history suggests, and even many Republicans were baffled by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the second presidential debate when he’s down in the polls and needs every opportunity possible to try disrupt the race’s status quo.

Going into the town hall, Biden led Trump by 9.2 points in the NBC News national polling average. Most swing-state polls in recent months show the Democrat to be the favorite.

It was not clear the town halls would change the trajectory.

Here are five takeaways from the two events.

Trump and Biden town halls: Fact-checking both candidates' claims

NBC News fact-checked both Trump and Biden town hall events.

Click here to read all of our takeaways.

Watch full NBC News Trump town hall

Biden fact check: Where does he stand on 'court packing'?

Biden has been evasive in recent weeks when it comes to whether he supports packing the Supreme Court with more justices, and ABC town hall moderator George Stephanopoulos tried on multiple occasions Thursday to get the Democratic nominee to take a position.

But Biden did not take the bait and his position on the critical issue remains somewhat murky.

Responding to Stephanopoulos' first attempt to pin him down, Biden said, "I have not been a fan of court packing because then it just...whatever happens, whoever wins it just keeps moving in a way that is inconsistent with what is gonna be manageable."

Expanding the court, which could be accomplished legislatively, is supported by many progressives as a way to dilute the power of conservative justices who are now in the majority. 

When Stephanopoulos followed up by asking whether that means Biden was "still not a fan" of court packing — increasing the size of the court to more than the current nine justices — Biden replied, "Well, I’m not a fan. I didn't say — it depends on how this turns out. Not on how he wins, but how it's handled," an apparent reference to the Senate confirmation vote on nominee Amy Coney Barrett. 

Later, Stephanopoulos tried again by asking Biden whether the Republican-controlled Senate voting on Barrett before Election Day would result in him being "open to expanding the court."

"I'm open to considering what happens from that point on," Biden replied.

Those responses do little clear up questions about Biden's position on the issue.

Last Thursday, Biden said he was withholding his position on the issue until after Nov. 3, telling reporters that, "you'll know my opinion on court-packing the minute the election is over.” Then, on Monday, he said he's "not a fan of court packing." Over the weekend, when asked during an interview with a Las Vegas television station whether voters deserved to know if he would pack the Supreme Court, Biden replied,  "No, they don't."

Biden said in July that he opposed any efforts to expand the size of the Supreme Court, but has backed away from having a clear position on the matter in the weeks since the mid-September death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

During the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, Biden refused to answer a question about court packing, telling moderator Chris Wallace, "Whatever position I take in that, that'll become the issue."

He also told a Wisconsin television station last month that "it's a legitimate question" but that he was "not going to answer" it.  

Biden's position on the issue has come under increased scrutiny since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Senate Republicans have vowed to speed through the confirmation hearings of Barrett — marking a reversal of the precedent they set in 2016, when they refused to even hold hearings for President Barack Obama's court nominee because it was an election year.

'We know who's got the stamina': Biden's performance gets social praise

Fact check: Did Trump denounce white supremacy during first debate?

Pressed Thursday about his past remarks on white supremacy, Trump claimed he “denounced white supremacy” during the first debate.

Not quite. Asked if he was willing to do it, Trump said, “Sure, I’m prepared to do it,” but then immediately insisted that violence comes from those on the left and not the right.

Fact check: Trump blames stimulus failure on Pelosi. The reality is less simple.

During the NBC News town hall Thursday, Trump put the blame for the failure of a new coronavirus stimulus package squarely on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"The problem we have is Nancy Pelosi — she couldn’t care less about the worker, she couldn’t care less about our people. We should have a stimulus, I want a stimulus, the Republicans will approve a stimulus,” he said.

Trump added, “She doesn’t want to give the money. We should have stimulus, this is not our people’s fault, this is China’s fault. And she’s penalizing our people. I’m ready to sign a big, beautiful stimulus."

In fact, Trump’s own positions have zigzagged abruptly and are out of sync with his own top administration officials, as well as Senate Republicans, who are uninterested in giving him the big deal he says he wants. Pelosi has demonstrated willingness to spend considerably more money than his party has said it can stomach. Pelosi’s Democratic-led House passed a $3.4 trillion HEROES Act in May, which Senate Republicans rejected. Extended negotiations — stopping and starting — ensued during the summer during which Trump administration officials sought to cut the price tag to about $1 trillion, which Democrats rejected.

The two sides were somewhat closer to a dollar figure when, on Oct. 6, Trump abruptly ordered an end to negotiations and told Republicans to focus on the Supreme Court vacancy. Days later, after the stock market reacted negatively, he shifted again and pleaded for a big stimulus deal. But Senate Republicans have made clear they won’t support that, and Pelosi has called their offers insufficient.

Trump gives clearest answer yet on accepting election loss

Trump told Guthrie on Thursday that he will commit to a peaceful transition of power if he isn't re-elected. 

“The answer is, yes I will, but I want it to be an honest election,” Trump said, one of his most succinct comments to date on the matter.

Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in recent months. Asked at a news conference last month whether he would accept a Biden win, Trump said that "we’re going to have to see what happens." He also told Fox News' Chris Wallace in June that he would "have to see" about a peaceful transfer. Pence also dodged the question at last week's vice presidential debate.

Trump then repeated several misleading claims about mail-in ballots and early voting, a frequent talking point of his that he has not been able to sustain with evidence. 

Biden sticks around to talk more with voters in audience

After the town hall wrapped, a masked Biden continued to talk to socially distanced voters in the audience. He was still with them 20 minutes after the event wrapped. 

At one point during the event, he pledged to a voter to stick around and continue to talk about issues. In a crucial and diverse state like Pennsylvania, it’s one of the few chances he gets to talk (almost) face-to-face with voters of different backgrounds at once during the pandemic.

Fact check: Trump's misleading, false claims on DACA

“We are going to take care of DACA, we’re going to take care of Dreamer, it’s working right now, we’re negotiating different aspects of immigration and immigration law,” the president claimed on Thursday night. “We’re working very hard on the DACA program.”

The idea that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program "is working right now" is extremely misleading. The president’s administration began rejecting new applicants to the program this summer about a month after the Supreme Court blocked the White House from ending the program completely.

In its ruling, the high court found that his administration was “arbitrary and capricious” in its attempt to end the Obama-era program. Existing applicants also must reapply every year, but remain in the program.

Pressed on this point by moderator Savannah Guthrie, Trump claimed his administration curtailed the program “because of the pandemic, much changed on the immigration front. Mexico is heavily infected.”

This is outright false. Trump's administration credited the change to the Supreme Court ruling in a press release.

What's more, DACA benefits some immigrants whose parents brought them to the U.S. as young children, not people coming in from Mexico in the present. The program confers certain protections from deportation and permission to legally work. Trump also referred to "Dreamer" Thursday night —  DACA recipients are commonly known as "dreamers," based on proposals that would have afforded similar protections for young immigrants that never passed Congress.