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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:

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.

Trump campaign attacks moderators after town halls end

The Trump campaign is out with a statement following the conclusion of both candidates’ town halls, focusing its criticism on the moderators. 

“Even though the commission canceled the in-person debate that could have happened tonight, one occurred anyway, and President Trump soundly defeated NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in her role as debate opponent and Joe Biden surrogate. President Trump masterfully handled Guthrie’s attacks and interacted warmly and effectively with the voters in the room,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020 communications director, said. 

“Over on ABC it was a completely different scene, as once again Biden was kept comfortable and away from any questions that might challenge him,” he argued.

Fact check: Did Trump accurately quote Ginsburg on filling Supreme Court vacancies?

Trump defended his push to confirm a Supreme Court justice with weeks to go before the election by paraphrasing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose seat he is attempting to fill after her death in September.

“When a president is elected, they're elected for a period of four years. And Justice Ginsburg said it best, I think talking about President Obama, having to do with somebody else, that the president is put there for four years, not for three years,” Trump said Thursday. 

Trump is referring to comments Ginsburg made at Georgetown University on Sept. 7, 2016, when asked if there were any "valid constitutional arguments that would prevent President Obama" from filling the seat vacated after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Although Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the seat in March, the GOP-controlled Senate did not hold hearings for Garland.

During that 2016 event, Ginsburg replied: “The president has the authority to name appointees to the Supreme Court, but he has to do so with the advice and consent of the Senate. And if the Senate doesn’t act, as this current Senate is not acting, what can be done about it?”

“I do think that cooler heads will prevail, I hope sooner rather than later. The president is elected for four years, not three years, so the power that he has in year 3 continues into year 4,” she continued.

Trump was also asked Thursday why he now supports confirming a justice so close to an election after arguing the opposite in 2016. He justified it by pointing to now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh's contentious confirmation proceedings.

Biden fact check: He says his environmental plan isn't the Green New Deal

During an exchange about the Green New Deal with ABC's Stephanopoulos, the host noted that Biden says he's "not for it, but in your website it, you call it a crucial framework."

Biden replied, "My deal is a crucial framework. But not the New Green Deal."

That is not true, and it mischaracterizes how similar Biden's own plan to combat climate change and environmental racism and push clean energy sources and environmental justice are to the Green New Deal — an ambitious environmental policy plan supported by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

While Biden doesn't explicitly support the Green New Deal, his own plans feature similar provisions, and his campaign website literally cites it as a "crucial framework" — meaning his denials ring false.

Over the summer, Biden released a $2 trillion plan that emphasized building new energy efficient infrastructure projects and cutting fossil fuel emissions.

Under his plan, Biden would, if elected, increase clean energy use in various areas (including transportation, electricity and buildings), and have the U.S. achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The plan would also create 10 million clean energy jobs, according to his campaign website, with a focus on renewable energy, small nuclear reactors and grid energy storage, among other initiatives.

Biden's plans adopt many of the same pillars of the Green New Deal. One of his campaign documents even says that "Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face." In addition, release of these plans were celebrated by many of the same groups that had touted the Green New Deal.

Biden's plans do, however, omit some of the Green New Deal's more controversial elements, such as "Medicare for All," a federal jobs guarantee and a strict zero carbon-emissions mandate.

Another critical difference is that, while Biden's plan calls for the U.S. to get to a "100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions" by 2050, the Green New Deal wants it done by 2030 — a distinction Biden explicitly outlined on Thursday.

"The difference between me and the New Green Deal, they say automatically by 2030, we’re gonna be carbon free. Not possible," he said. "The New Green Deal calls for the elimination of all non-renewable energy by 2030. You can’t get there. You’re gonna need to be able to transition, George. To transition to get to the place where we invest in new technologies that allow us to get us to a place where we can get to net zero emissions."

In a statement to NBC News following the town hall, a Biden campaign official further outlined the differences between Biden's plan and the Green New Deal.

"When Biden laid out his own climate plan, he acknowledged that the Green New Deal is a crucial framework — or structure — to arrange thinking on climate because it includes two truths that he carried into his own plan," the official said. "The urgent need for action, and a recognition of the interconnectedness of our environment and economy. You can see those truths in his plan. But his plan is very much the Biden plan."

What will Biden do if he loses?

Biden was asked by a voter about what he would do if he lost the election to keep pressure on Trump on issues of racial justice and what he would do to help unify the country.

Biden had little hope that the country might be able to come together if Trump wins a second term.

“To be very honest with you, I think that will be very hard. Things have not lent themselves to him learning about what's come before,” Biden said. 

Biden said that Trump had employed a strategy of “conquer and divide” and that the president “does better if he splits us.”

“You will not hear me race-baiting, you will not hear me dividing. You will hear me trying to unify,” Biden said of his potential presidency.

Stephanopoulos asked Biden what it would say about the country if he loses. 

“It could say I was a lousy candidate, I didn’t do a good job,” Biden said. 

Parent of trans child questions Biden on transgender rights

Biden took a question from a voter who has a trans child and how he would protect trans rights in his administration. 

He took aim at the policies Trump has made to exclude trans Americans from the military and getting other protections, which the former vice president said he would swiftly reverse. 

He also acknowledged the disparities trans women of color face, particularly Black trans women and noted the high murder rate. The Human Rights Campaign has noted that at least 30 trans or gender non-conforming Americans were violently killed in 2020 so far.

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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.”