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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: Where does he stand on fracking?

Biden said Thursday, "I do not propose banning fracking."

"I think you have to make sure that fracking is, in fact, not admitting methane or polluting the well or dealing with what can be small earthquakes in how they’re drilling. So it has to be managed very well," he added.

While it's true Biden has said he will not ban fracking, his position is complicated.

The policies he has released call only for no new fracking on federal lands. His policy also allows for existing fracking on federal lands to continue, and existing and new fracking on privately owned land to continue.

Biden, however, has also called for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 — a plan that would include a systematic departure from the use of fossil fuels, which has implications for fracking.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos brought up at the town hall the apparent contradiction in a follow-up question, noting that "not everyone buys your denial" that he won't ban fracking and pointing to a quote from a member of the Boilermakers Local 154 union who told The New York Times that "you can't meet your goal to end fossil fuels without ending fracking."

Biden responded by saying that he had discussed the issue with the union "and went into great detail with leadership on exactly what I would do."

Biden, including in that response, has yet to explicitly say how or when that move away from fossil fuels would affect fracking. President Donald Trump has used Biden's proposal to tell audiences, inaccurately, that his opponent wants to ban fracking now.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a practice used to tap into natural gas reserves deep below the earth's surface. It's a critical issue in states like the battleground of Pennsylvania, where the practice has brought economic prosperity to several once-impoverished areas. It is controversial because many of the chemicals used in the process are toxic to humans and have been known to cause serious health problems in populations near fracking fields.

Fact check: Trump says he’s built '400 miles of border wall'

 "We’ve built now over 400 miles of border wall, southern border,” Trump said.

Trump's administration says he's built 360 miles as of Oct. 12. The bulk of it is replacement wall for older barriers, while a small portion of that figure consists of brand new wall.

Biden says Trump’s foreign policy deserves 'a little' credit — but not a lot

Responding to a voter question, Biden said that while Trump has done some good on foreign policy, his strategy of “America first” has translated into “America alone.”

“I do compliment the president on the deal with Israel,” Biden said. “But if you take a look, we’re not very well trusted around the world.”

Fact check: Trump, attacking Obamacare, repeats false claim about pre-existing conditions

Trump said that "we are always protecting people with pre-existing conditions" during his Thursday town hall, attacking Obamacare while reiterating his unkept campaign promise to replace the health care law with something better and cheaper.

We’ve fact checked the claim about pre-existing conditions at length before, and it’s still false. Trump has long insisted that he and the GOP will protect people with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance — but he has pursued legislation, litigation and executive actions to dismantle those protections under the Affordable Care Act. 

A Republican bill backed by Trump included ACA state waivers that would allow insurers to charge higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions, potentially pricing them out of the market. It passed the House and died in the Senate in 2017, with Republicans not coalescing around a new, comprehensive health care plan since.

Trump has also used executive actions to expand the use of short-term insurance plans that aren't required to cover pre-existing conditions.

His administration has argued that the Supreme Court should overturn the law in a case it will hear next month. When asked about that lawsuit, Trump defended it and said Republicans will "replace it with a much better health care at a much lower price and always, under all circumstances...protect people with pre-existing conditions." 

Trump recently signed a symbolic executive order affirming the protections Obamacare created and directing his administration to limit surprise billing. But the order had little effect on existing law.

Maddow: 'Well, that happened'

After Trump's town hall concluded, MSNBC cut into anchor Rachel Maddow's nightly broadcast.

Maddow started her show by saying, "Well, that happened."

Biden pressed on fracking, climate change

Biden said he would not ban fracking, a topic that his critics have seized on since his running mate, Kamala Harris, has previously said she would ban it and his position on it has slightly shifted. 

Harris has since aligned herself with Biden, who told a voter at tonight’s town hall worried about the environment he would put more stringent regulations on the practice, which is an important industry in Pennsylvania and other states. 

He also laid out his plan on transitioning the country to cleaner, renewable energy sources to fight climate change. Despite his staunch position to not ban fracking, this is likely to be a pressing issue up until election day as President Trump criticizes Biden over the issue.

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."