In one town hall, former Vice President Joe Biden vowed to unravel the anti-LGBTQ actions of President Donald Trump. In the other town hall, Trump frantically claimed ignorance about far-right conspiracy theorists before letting it slip that he knows specific details about them and actually agrees with them.
The pair of contrasting live events on October 15 were intended to replace the presidential debate slated the same night, which was scrapped after Trump refused to participate in a virtual debate following his diagnosis of COVID-19.
Over the course of a town hall that spanned topics including foreign policy, race, court-packing, and more, Biden was asked two questions on LGBTQ issues at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Simultaneous events replace debate with less than three weeks until November election
One of those questions came from a mother with a transgender daughter who laid out multiple ways in which the Trump administration has assailed the rights of transgender and non-binary individuals nationwide. She asked how Biden, as president, would “reverse this dangerous and discriminatory agenda and ensure that the lives and rights of LGBTQ people are protected under US law.”
“I will flat-out just change the law,” responded Biden, who noted that he would “eliminate” Trump’s executive actions against queer rights.
The former vice president then segued into a story he has told on a regular basis, though the anecdote drifted away from the challenges of transgender Americans. He recalled a time during his youth when he and his father witnessed a same-sex couple hug and kiss each other.
“My dad said, ‘Joey, it’s simple. They love each other,’” Biden said.
Biden proceeded to express some well-intended points about respecting transgender individuals, though he stumbled with off-key language that failed to affirm the reality that trans people typically do not wake up one day and “decide” to be transgender.
“The idea that an eight-year-old child or a 10-year-old child decides, ‘You know, I decided, I want to be transgender; that’s what I think I’d like to be, it would make my life a lot easier,’ there should be zero discrimination,” Biden said.
But he notably went on to bring attention to the alarming pattern of deadly violence facing transgender women of color across the nation during a year that has already broken records for murders of non-binary and transgender individuals.
“What’s happening is too many transgender women of color are being murdered,” Biden said.
The Democratic presidential nominee inaccurately guessed the known death toll of transgender individuals this year, saying, “I think it’s up to 17.”
The woman who asked the question reminded him that the number is actually greater. The death toll jumped up to 33 in the days before the town hall.
“So I promise you there is no reason to suggest that there should be any right to deny your daughter that your other daughter has a right to be and do,” Biden said.
Biden informed the woman that his late son Beau, who spent eight years as attorney general of Delaware, served at a time when the state passed a transgender rights law.
Another question during the town hall came from a man who asked the former vice president about LGBTQ rights in the context of the Supreme Court — a question that holds particular relevance in the midst of the confirmation process surrounding anti-LGBTQ Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Biden was asked, “What do you say to LGBTQ Americans and others who are very worried right now about erosions of their rights and our democracy as a whole?”
“I think there’s great reason to be concerned for the LGBT community, something I fought very hard for, for a long time, to make sure there’s equality across the board,” Biden said in response.
Biden also used that answer to emphasize that the conservative-leaning imbalance on the Supreme Court could pose a threat to the Affordable Care Act in a matter of weeks.
“I think that, also, health care overall is very much in jeopardy as a consequence of the president’s going to go directly — after this election — directly to the Supreme Court within a month to try to get Obamacare wiped out, after 10 million people have already lost their insurance from their employer and wants to take 20 million people out of the system as well, plus 100 million people with preexisting conditions,” Biden said.
Biden again mostly dodged questions about whether he supports packing the Supreme Court, an issue that has loomed larger over the political landscape in light of the inevitable 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court once Barrett is confirmed.
Biden rambled about the issue, first saying if he answered the question directly then it would draw attention, then saying he is “not a fan” of it, before finally giving a long-winded answer explaining that “it depends on how this turns out, not how he wins, but how it’s handled… it depends on how much they rush this.”
When pressed by ABC moderator George Stephanopoulos whether he is open to expanding the court if a Barrett vote is held before the election, he said, “I’m open to considering what happens from that point on,” and he vowed to offer a more definitive answer ahead of election day.
Meanwhile, Trump’s town hall event in Miami did nothing to quell the fears of voters who have been horrified by his refusal to condemn white supremacy.
With a tone of exasperation, the president — badly in need of some momentum with less than three weeks until election day — got defensive when asked about that issue by moderator Savannah Guthrie as he abruptly blurted out, “I denounce white supremacy, okay?”
That reprieve from extremism didn’t last long. Shortly thereafter, Trump was asked to disavow QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory that falsely warns of some Satanic child-trafficking ring out to get President Trump.
“I know very little,” Trump said. “You told me, but what you tell me, doesn’t necessarily make it fact. I hate to say that. I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. But I know nothing about it.”
He then pivoted, exclaiming, “I’ll tell you what I do know about. I know about Antifa, and I know about the radical left, and I know how violent they are and how vicious they are. And I know how they are burning down cities run by Democrats, not run by Republicans.”
Trump then returned back to QAnon, saying, “What I do hear about it, is they are strongly against pedophilia. And I agree with that. I mean, I do agree with that and I agree with it very strongly.”
The Trump town hall also featured perhaps the line that will best be remembered from the 2020 campaign. When asked to explain why he retweeted a ludicrous conspiracy theory that Biden was involved in a cover-up of the “faked” killing of Osama bin Laden, the president said, “I’ll put it out there, people can decide for themselves.”
NBC’s Savannah Guthrie responded, “I don’t get that. You’re the president — you’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever!”
Biden and Trump are slated to face off in the final presidential debate at 9 p.m. on October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.
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