In one of his final prime-time television events before Election Day, President Trump, who is trailing in national and battleground polls, offered little new to voters who may still be undecided, speaking positively about a far-right conspiracy theory movement and staking out positions on the coronavirus that are at odds with both the scientific consensus and public opinion.
Simultaneously, on another network, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. presented a very different vision of the country, promoting a federal response to the pandemic led by health experts and denouncing systemic discrimination.
For the first time, Mr. Biden also promised to take a stand on whether Democrats should push to expand the Supreme Court if he wins. He said he would make his position known before Election Day, adding that he wanted to see how Republicans’ push to quickly confirm a replacement to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg played out.
Mr. Trump arrived at his town hall, which took place in Miami and aired on NBC, with a simple pitch: People should vote for him “because we’ve done a great job.” Mr. Biden’s goal for the evening was to both push back on that argument and allow Mr. Trump to keep the focus on himself — something the president appeared happy to do.
With 19 days until Election Day and cases of the virus rising again in much of the country, Mr. Trump said, falsely, “We’re coming around the corner.”
He added, “Vaccines are coming soon and our economy is strong.” In reality, it is not clear when a coronavirus vaccine will be widely available to the public and no medical experts have agreed with him that the country, which on Wednesday saw at least 1,009 new coronavirus deaths and 59,713 new cases reported, is rounding the corner.
Mr. Biden, appearing on ABC, attacked Mr. Trump for his handling of the pandemic, saying, “He missed enormous opportunities and kept saying things that weren’t true.” Mr. Biden called for a national standard” to combat the outbreak, which has killed over 215,000 people in the United States.
Throughout his hourlong event, Mr. Trump evaded answers on everything from his stance on mask-wearing to whether he believed in the false QAnon conspiracy theory. On policy questions, he refused to answer whether he supported overturning Roe v. Wade, or to give any specifics about when he planned to unveil a “very major immigration bill” he has promised for months.
When the NBC moderator, Savannah Guthrie, pressed him, noting that most anti-abortion Republicans would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and abortion banned, he punted.
“I’m telling you I don’t want to do anything to influence anything right now,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Biden also evaded a question, dodging when George Stephanopoulos, the evening’s host, pressed him on court-packing.
“No matter what answer I gave you, if I say it, that’s the headline,” Mr. Biden said. He added, in a reference to Senate Republicans, “It won’t be about what’s going on now, the improper way they’re proceeding” with filling the seat so close to the election.
One subject was notably absent from both conversations. While Mr. Trump and other Republicans have sought to attack Mr. Biden over his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings, with the president’s allies providing news outlets with unsubstantiated material about the Bidens, Mr. Trump notably did not bring up the younger Mr. Biden.
Instead, he focused on trying to paint his own accomplishments in the best light, after further stoking the country’s political rifts. “We’ve given you the greatest tax cut in the history of our country,” he said. “We created new levels of jobs that nobody thought was possible. And next year is going to be better than ever before.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed to change laws that discriminate against people who are transgender, reversing the Trump administration’s rollback of transgender rights.
Responding at Thursday’s town hall to a question from a woman who said one of her daughters was transgender, the former vice president provided a somewhat jumbled answer that touched on several issues related to L.G.B.T.Q. rights.
He recalled, for instance, seeing two men hug and kiss when he was younger and turning to his father, who told him, “Joey, it’s simple; they love each other.” He also noted that “too many transgender women of color are being murdered.”
“There should be zero discrimination,” he said at another point.
At the end of his response, Mr. Biden insensitively described a transgender person. Noting his late son Beau Biden’s work as Delaware’s attorney general to pass transgender protections, Mr. Biden said it was because of “a young man who became a woman.”
But that Mr. Biden discussed transgender issues on such a prominent stage in the presidential campaign was immediately hailed as a victory by some L.G.B.T.Q. activists and others on the left.
Joe Biden just said too many transgender women of color have been murdered. This is something you will NEVER hear from Donald Trump. EVER. #BidenTownHall
— Dana Goldberg (@DGComedy) October 16, 2020
Over the last four years, the Trump administration has systematically rolled back regulations that protected transgender people, including serving in the military and receiving medical care. That stands in sharp contrast to Mr. Biden, who is now regarded as a champion for L.G.B.T.Q. rights; if Mr. Biden is elected president, one gay rights leader said in June, he would be the “most pro-equality president we have ever had.”
President Trump all but conceded that he owed about $400 million to creditors, an amount of debt that a New York Times investigation reported he had personally guaranteed, but claimed that he was financially underleveraged — and suggested some of his loans were “favors to institutions that wanted to loan me money.”
In the longest exchange about his finances since the details of his tax returns were revealed, Mr. Trump claimed that his accumulation of debt was a byproduct of working in the real estate business, despite evidence that the bulk of his profits in the last decade have come from payments he received as the star of “The Apprentice” on NBC.
“Are you confirming that, yes, you do owe some $400 million?” Ms. Guthrie asked.
“What I’m saying is that it’s a tiny percentage of my net worth,” Mr. Trump replied.
“When you look at vast properties like I have, and they’re big and they’re beautiful and they’re well located, when you look at that, the amount of money, $400 million, is a peanut, it’s extremely underlevered,” he added — using his own version of the word “underleveraged,” a financial term that refers to a manageable debt load.
“And it’s leveraged with normal banks,” he added. “Not a big deal.”
Mr. Trump lurched between angrily denying the report and trumpeting some of the disclosures in the investigation, such as the lack of evidence that he had borrowed millions from Russian banks.
“No, I don’t owe Russia money,” he said.
When asked if he owed anything to foreign banks in any other country, Mr. Trump offered this: “Not that I know of, but I will probably.”
The investigation found that Mr. Trump’s finances were under stress, and he was beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.
His tax returns — which Mr. Trump claimed had been obtained illegally — also showed that he had paid just $750 the year he won the presidency and the same amount the following year.
“That’s a statutory number,” Mr. Trump said when Ms. Guthrie asked him about it. “I think it’s a filing number. You pay $750, it’s a filing fee.”
“Most people here probably pay more,” she replied.
Addressing an issue of deep importance in Pennsylvania, where the ABC town hall took place, Joseph R. Biden Jr. confirmed that he did not want to ban fracking but said he would “stop giving tax breaks and subsidizing oil.”
“We don’t need to subsidize oil any longer,” he said. “We should stop that and save billions of dollars over time.”
Though President Trump and Republicans have repeatedly claimed that Mr. Biden wants to ban fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, Mr. Biden has not gone that far. He is treading carefully, aware that the issue is intrinsically linked to high-paying union jobs, especially in Pennsylvania, a state where he spent much of his childhood and which is critical in this year’s election. He has also faced pressure from climate activists who point to fracking’s toll on the environment.
Instead, Mr. Biden has proposed ending new permits for fracking on federal lands, but not a national ban.
On climate change more generally, Mr. Biden said he did not support the Green New Deal — which he erroneously and repeatedly referred to on Thursday night as “the new green deal” — and rejected the idea that it was a framework for combating climate change even though his own website uses that language.
“My deal is a crucial framework, but not the new green deal,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday. (Mr. Biden’s website calls the Green New Deal a “crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.”)
Mr. Biden laid out a plan over the summer to spend $2 trillion over four years to support clean energy, electric vehicles and energy-efficient homes, as well as eliminate emissions from the power sector by 2035. He has also framed combating climate change as an economic opportunity for job creation.
With 19 days to go before Election Day, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their joint fund-raising committees on Thursday announced they had raised $247.8 million in September and had $251.4 million in cash on hand.
The September haul was less than former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign and affiliated committees raised in the same month, but was still a substantial amount for a campaign that has been struggling to recoup a cash advantage that has evaporated.
Mr. Biden announced Wednesday he had raised an eye-popping $383 million in September, riding a surge of online donations and making it his record fund-raising month.
In August, the Trump campaign, the R.N.C. and their joint fund-raising committees raised $210 million, falling about $150 million short of Mr. Biden’s fund-raising haul.
The question to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was simple: Does President Trump deserve any credit for a foreign policy agenda that brought Israel and its Arab neighbors to the negotiating table?
“A little, but not a whole lot,” Mr. Biden began.
But then, as he got rolling, Mr. Biden launched into his usual harangue on the Trump foreign policy, ticking off Mr. Trump’s dalliances with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and other autocrats.
“He’s pulled out of almost every international organization, he gets laughed at when he goes to — literally, not figuratively — when he goes to the United Nations,” Mr. Biden said. “I mean, it’s just not — it’s not about the president, per se, it’s about the nation and the lack of respect that’s shown to us,” Biden said.
By the end of his response, Mr. Biden had changed his mind about whether to give Mr. Trump any credit.
“So, I would respectfully suggest, no, there is no plan,” Biden said. “No coherent plan for foreign policy.”
When asked by a voter about the hypocrisy of Republicans moving to confirm a Supreme Court nominee in an election year after refusing to do the same in 2016, President Trump made the same argument Democrats made then: that presidents are elected “for four years, not for three years.”
He did not draw the distinction congressional Republicans have focused on: that in 2016, the Senate and the White House were controlled by different parties, but now, they are controlled by the same one. His argument was indistinguishable from the one his party rejected four years ago.
When pressed on the inconsistency, Mr. Trump changed tacks and said, “The whole ballgame changed when I saw the way they treated Justice Kavanaugh.”
During the confirmation process for then-Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018, a former classmate of his, Christine Blasey Ford, testified that he had tried to rape her in high school. Democrats had argued forcefully against his confirmation in response.
Savannah Guthrie spent most of the NBC News town hall tearing into President Trump with a series of quick-paced, conversational questions that put him on the spot and successfully revealed his evasions in a way that few of his interlocutors have managed.
Ms. Guthrie asked Mr. Trump simple questions that one might pose around the dinner table. For instance, she pressed him to explain why he would amplify a conspiracy theory that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had orchestrated to have SEAL Team 6 killed to cover up the supposedly fake death of Osama bin Laden.
“Why would you send a lie like that to your followers?” Ms. Guthrie asked him of the theory he had retweeted.
“That was a retweet,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ll put it out there.”
“I don’t get that,” she said. “You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.”
Mr. Trump said he relied on social media to circumvent the news media that he believes is unfair to him. “I wouldn’t be able to get the word out,” he said.
Ms. Guthrie interrupted him. “The word is false,” she said.
In another simple but firm exchange, Ms. Guthrie did not accept his answer that he was unfamiliar with the QAnon conspiracy theory, which he has refused on multiple occasions to denounce.
“I just don’t know about QAnon,” Mr. Trump said.
“You do know,” Ms. Guthrie responded, noting that she had explained what the group was to him in real time.
“I don’t know,” he said again, adding, “You tell me all about it, let’s waste a whole show.”
Ms. Guthrie appeared to be successful in pinning down the president simply by following up on the questions she asked, despite his best attempts to evade answering.
“Did you take a test, though, on the day of the debate?” she asked when discussing his coronavirus infection, trying to piece together what had been a murky timeline about when the president took his last negative test before announcing his positive test for the virus on Oct. 2.
“If you ask the doctors, they’ll give you a perfect answer,” Mr. Trump said.
“Did you take a test on the day of the debate, I guess is the bottom line,” she pressed.
“I probably did,” he said.
Ms. Guthrie’s conversational yet piercing interview style appeared to get under the president’s skin.
“Why aren’t you asking Joe Biden questions about why doesn’t he condemn antifa?” Mr. Trump asked her.
“Because you’re here,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“So cute,” Mr. Trump responded, in a condescending tone that was unlikely to endear him to the suburban women voters he has been trying to win back.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed for the first time to come out with a clear position before Election Day on whether he supported expanding the size of the Supreme Court. While he reiterated that he was “not a fan” of the concept, the comments were some of his most direct yet on an issue that has followed him since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.
Asked by the host, George Stephanopoulos, during the ABC town hall event on Thursday if he would be open to increasing the number of justices on the nation’s highest court after senators vote on the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Mr. Biden said, “I’m open to considering what happens from that point on.”
Asked if voters had a right to know where he stood on the issue, he said they did — a departure from the testy way he had answered a similar question this week in a local television interview.
“They do have a right to know where I stand, and they’ll have a right to know where I stand before they vote,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday.
Asked if that meant he would provide a clear position before Election Day, Mr. Biden answered, “Yes.” He added, appearing to refer to Republicans, “Depending on how they handle this.”
As recently as last year, Mr. Biden, who served for decades as a senator from Delaware and was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had expressed firm opposition to the idea of expanding the court, an idea that has gained traction on the left as a countermeasure if Republicans rush through Judge Barrett’s confirmation.
But since Justice Ginsburg’s death, Mr. Biden has repeatedly dodged questions about the issue. Republicans had seized on Mr. Biden’s evasiveness in recent days as part of their attempt to paint him as a Trojan horse of the “radical” left.
On Monday, Mr. Biden told a local TV interviewer in Cincinnati that he was “not a fan of court packing,” but did not categorically rule it out, as he did during the Democratic primary.
“I don’t want to get off on that whole issue,” Mr. Biden said Monday. “I want to keep focused. The president would love nothing better than to fight about whether or not I would in fact pack the court or not pack the court.”
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. predicted that there would be a small caucus of Republican senators willing to back a bipartisan agenda if he’s elected president.
“With Trump out of the way, the vindictiveness of a president going after Republicans who don’t do exactly what he says gets taken away,” Mr. Biden said during his televised Thursday night town hall event on ABC. “There’s going to be, I promise you, between four and eight Republican senators who are willing — they’re going to be willing to move on things where there’s bipartisan consensus.”
Mr. Biden’s prediction is one he has been making throughout his presidential campaign, but it does not track with the last 15 years of congressional history. Republicans worked in lock step to oppose President Barack Obama’s agenda, while Democrats have voted in a bloc to oppose President Trump and the final few years of President George W. Bush.
Yet Mr. Biden has continued to describe what would be, if he wins the election, an idyllic all-work-together Congress that hasn’t existed in a generation.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. defended the 1994 crime bill, his signature piece of legislation, but said elements of it were not carried out properly by the states.
Asked by George Stephanopoulos if it was a mistake to support the bill, Mr. Biden replied: “Yes, it was. But here’s where the mistake came. The mistake came in terms of what the states did locally.”
Mr. Biden defended the legislation as indicative of its time, saying it had the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and Black mayors across America. But he said racial justice issues in America were different now than they were when the bill passed a generation ago.
“Things have changed drastically,” he said.
Mr. Biden, who delivered lengthy answers throughout the first 40 minutes of his town hall event, gave an eight-minute disquisition about the history of the legislation and how conditions have changed since it was enacted.
Toward the end of his response, he reiterated that he opposed defunding police departments, and that he instead called for more training and more social workers to help police officers de-escalate situations.
When he finished, as Mr. Stephanopoulos went to a commercial break, Mr. Biden turned to the questioner and said, “I don’t know if I answered your question.”
Asked by a voter to describe his plan to reduce health care costs, President Trump said he wanted to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act but gave no details on how he would do so.
He did not give a straight answer when the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, noted that Republicans had tried and failed to do exactly that in 2017, when they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress.
“If you look, we had both houses and what did we do? We got rid of the individual mandate,” Mr. Trump said, without addressing the “replace” part of the “repeal and replace” promise.
He also said, as he has many times before, that he and the Republican Party would “always protect people with pre-existing conditions,” even though the Trump administration is currently asking the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which includes those protections.
When Ms. Guthrie pointed out that his administration was doing that, Mr. Trump said, “In order to replace it with much better health care at a much lower price, and always, under all circumstances, we are going to protect.” But he did not describe any details of a plan to do that.
His promises to replace the Affordable Care Act with something “better” have been a mainstay of his campaign, but at no point have Republicans been able to agree on any alternative to the health care law.
President Trump made a litany of false claims about voter fraud during his town hall, which he continues to present as a huge threat to the integrity of the election, even though there is no evidence of widespread fraud.
He claimed, falsely, that “thousands of ballots” cast for him had been summarily discarded, and repeatedly expressed anger as the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, challenged him.
“They spied on my campaign and they got caught, and they spied heavily on my campaign, and they tried to take down a duly elected sitting president,” Mr. Trump said, repeating a debunked conspiracy theory about spying. “And then they talk about, ‘Will you accept a peaceful transfer?’ And the answer is yes, I will. But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else. When I see thousands of ballots dumped in a garbage can and they happened to have my name on it, I’m not happy about that.”
There is no evidence that thousands of ballots have been dumped in garbage cans.
At one point, Ms. Guthrie pointed out that Mr. Trump’s own F.B.I. director had affirmed how rare voter fraud was.
“Oh, really?” Mr. Trump responded. “Then he’s not doing a very good job.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. made a direct appeal to Black voters at the ABC town hall on Thursday night, vowing to make the criminal justice system “fair” and “more decent” and to create more opportunities for people of color to build up wealth.
“If young Black women and men vote, you can determine the outcome of this election,” Mr. Biden said in response to a question from a young Black man about his message for Black voters who are disenchanted with the political system.
Among the policies he ticked off were a proposal to invest $70 billion in historically Black colleges and universities, and universal pre-kindergarten.
Mr. Biden has overwhelming support among Black voters: A recent poll from The New York Times and Siena College showed that Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump among Black voters, 81 percent to 7 percent. And the Democratic Party is the political home for most Black Americans.
Still, Mr. Trump has tried to chip away at Mr. Biden’s support, hoping that even a few percentage points could tip the election. Mr. Trump and Republicans have seized on remarks Mr. Biden made in May, when he told a radio host that Black voters torn between him and Mr. Trump “ain’t Black.” The comment, which Mr. Biden has apologized for, set off a backlash online among liberal activists and conservatives alike. His words also threatened to reopen wounds from 2016, when many leaders felt Democrats took Black voters for granted.
Mr. Biden at the time swiftly tried to remedy his remarks — which the town hall questioner brought up as well.
“No one, no one, should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background,” Mr. Biden said in May. “There are African-Americans who think that Trump was worth voting for. I don’t think so. I’m prepared to put my record against his. That was the bottom line, and it was, it was really unfortunate.”
President Trump denied knowing about the conspiracy theory QAnon — days after tweeting out a discredited claim by the group that President Barack Obama had staged the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“I just don’t know about QAnon,” Mr. Trump said when the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, pressed him on his tweet and explained that the far-right believers of the conspiracy baselessly claim Democrats are a satanic cult that practices pedophilia.
“Can you just once and for all state that is completely not true and disavow QAnon in its entirety?” Ms. Guthrie asked.
“I do know they are very much against pedophilia, they fight it very hard,” Mr. Trump said.
Ms. Guthrie pressed him, asking him to respond to Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, who said that “QAnon is nuts.”
Mr. Trump responded, “I just don’t know about QAnon.”
“You do know,” she shot back, noting she had explained the group to him.
“I don’t know,” he said again.
Mr. Trump shrugged off his retweet of the bin Laden conspiracy theory — “I put it out there,” was how he framed it, prompting Ms. Guthrie to declare, “You’re not someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.”
A few minutes earlier Ms. Guthrie asked him to denounce white supremacy — after he equivocated on his answer to that question in his debate with Joseph R. Biden Jr. last month.
“I denounced white supremacy for years but you always do it, you always start off with the question, you didn’t ask Joe Biden whether or not he denounces antifa,” Mr. Trump responded.
“This is a little bit of a dodge,” Ms. Guthrie replied.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said he would take a coronavirus vaccine if one became available by the end of the year, and said that as president he would urge governors and local officials to press their constituents to take it as well.
“If the body of scientists say that this is what is ready to be done and it’s been tested, they’ve gone through the three phases, yes, I would take it, and I’d encourage people to take it,” he said.
And while Mr. Biden said he’d like to make a vaccine mandatory, just as he would like to make masks mandatory, he allowed that it is not possible to do from the White House.
“You couldn’t, that’s the problem,” he told the moderator, George Stephanopoulos. “You can’t say, ‘Everyone has to do this.’”
Instead, Mr. Biden said he would press upon the nation’s governors, mayors and county officials to tell their constituents to wear masks and take the vaccine.
President Trump’s town hall on NBC News got off to a testy start, when Savannah Guthrie, the “Today” co-anchor, pressed him on whether he had been tested for the coronavirus on the day of the first presidential debate (he said he couldn’t remember) and why he did not promote mask-wearing (he said, inaccurately, that 85 percent of people who wear masks catch the virus).
Since March, the presidential race has been defined by the coronavirus pandemic and Mr. Trump’s handling of the health crisis that has killed more than 215,000 people in the United States — even as the president and his advisers have tried to shift the debate to one about law and order, or, really, anything else.
Mr. Trump on Thursday night continued to interrupt Ms. Guthrie and defend his own talking points about his handling of the pandemic, and make inaccurate projections about the virus being in the rear view mirror.
“We’re a winner,” he said. “We have done an amazing job. And it’s rounding the corner. And we have the vaccines coming and we have the therapies coming.”
“Relative to the rest of the world we have the worst death rate,” Ms. Guthrie said.
“I have things right here that will tell you exactly the opposite,” Mr. Trump claimed.
As Savannah Guthrie grilled him on the number of coronavirus infections and deaths in the United States compared with other wealthy countries, President Trump pulled out a sheet of paper.
It was a printout of a frame from a YouTube video showing a Fox News graphic that suggests the United States is handling the pandemic better than Britain and the European Union — an assessment that does not fit with most public data.
The headline of the graphic is “More daily cases than the U.S.” and a caption at the bottom reads “cases per million, 7 day rolling avg.” The graphic shows Britain with a red arrow pointing up and “2,500%,” the European Union with a red arrow pointing up and “722%,” and the United States with a green arrow pointing down and “21%.”
Mr. Trump read off the figures from the graphic, saying cases in Britain and the European Union were up, and cases in the United States down, by those amounts. But the graphic doesn’t indicate the time frame to which it is referring, an exceedingly basic omission.
The numbers are not accurate now. It’s true that this week, Europe surpassed the United States in new coronavirus cases per capita. But American cases are also rising; they certainly haven’t fallen 21 percent.
If the graphic is meant to show current data, it is wrong. And if it shows data from earlier in the pandemic, it is actively misleading.
Over the course of the pandemic, the toll in the U.S. has been staggeringly high compared to other countries. The United States has about 4 percent of the world’s population, but about 20 percent of the world’s confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. lashed President Trump for his response to the coronavirus pandemic and called for a “national standard” to combat the outbreak, which has killed more than 215,000 people in the United States.
“He missed enormous opportunities and kept saying things that weren’t true,” Mr. Biden said at the ABC town hall on Thursday night, in response to a voter’s question about what he would have done in the early stages of the virus.
Mr. Biden pointed to an op-ed article he wrote in January about the dangers of the virus, and he said he had stopped holding big events and started wearing masks in March, when it became clear that the virus was spreading through the country.
Mr. Biden also called for a “national standard” to stop the spread of the virus. Mr. Trump, he suggested, had taken a view of: “The governors can do what they need to do; not my responsibility.”
Mr. Biden added, “It is the presidential responsibility to lead.”
The former vice president, who has repeatedly assailed Mr. Trump’s response to the coronavirus crisis, had declared he would do “whatever it takes” to stop the pandemic. Among the solutions he has offered are a national testing strategy that harnesses the power of the federal government, a national mask mandate, and lockdowns if scientists recommended them.
“I would shut it down; I would listen to the scientists,” he said during a joint interview in August with Senator Kamala Harris, his running mate. His remarks represented a stark contrast to Mr. Trump, who has been eager to see the country up and running again.
Mr. Biden has also said he would issue a national mask mandate, an issue that allows for a clear distinction with how Mr. Trump, who has largely refused to wear a mask in public, has approached the virus crisis.
President Trump began his NBC News town hall event in Miami — competing with the event Joseph R. Biden Jr. is holding simultaneously — with a series of vague answers and deflections in response to questions about the coronavirus.
When the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, asked how severe his symptoms had been and whether tests had shown pneumonia, he said the doctors had told him his lungs were “a little bit different, a little perhaps infected.” He also said that he “possibly” took a test the day of the first presidential debate, as was required.
He said, “I’m good with masks, I’m OK with masks, I tell people, ‘Wear masks,’” even though he almost never wears a mask and has repeatedly mocked Mr. Biden and others for doing so. And he refused to directly answer a question about whether he supported a “herd immunity” strategy, which would essentially allow more people to become sick and result in many more deaths.
Mr. Trump scheduled the event at the last minute, and NBC has drawn criticism for agreeing to host it at the same time as Mr. Biden’s. Mr. Trump’s campaign chose to withdraw from the debate that had been scheduled for Thursday night after the debate commission changed it to a virtual format in response to the president’s coronavirus infection.
With less than three weeks to go until Election Day, and millions of voters already casting ballots by mail and at early-voting sites, Mr. Trump is trailing badly in polls both nationally and in crucial swing states, and he is quickly running out of time to catch up.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has begun his town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Mr. Biden’s campaign scheduled the event, moderated by the ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos, after President Trump refused to participate in their second debate, originally scheduled for Thursday night, because the Commission on Presidential Debates made it a virtual event following Mr. Trump’s positive coronavirus test.
Mr. Biden enters Thursday’s town hall with polling leads in nearly every battleground state and a double-digit advantage in national surveys. He and his campaign have gone to great lengths in recent weeks to avoid making significant news, choosing instead to focus attention on Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
The few instances of Mr. Biden breaking through have come with his steadfast refusal to articulate a position on adding justices to the Supreme Court, a proposal he was opposed to during the Democratic primary but has mostly declined to address in recent weeks.
Stars and producers of hit NBC series — along with Rachel Maddow, the highest-rated anchor on MSNBC — have joined those assailing NBC News over its decision to air a town hall event with President Trump at 8 p.m. on Thursday, the same time ABC will offer a forum with his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Ms. Maddow, one of the few NBC News anchors with the clout to publicly chastise the network’s executives, raised the issue on her Wednesday show, asking Mr. Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, if she “was as mad as everybody else is that NBC is doing a town hall with President Trump tomorrow.” (Ms. Harris demurred.)
The anchor also called NBC’s scheduling decision “as odd as you think it is” alongside a graphic that said, “Apparently They Are Not Kidding.”
On Thursday, more than 100 actors and producers — including Sterling K. Brown and Mandy Moore, both of the NBC hit “This Is Us,” and Mariska Hargitay of the NBC staple “Law & Order: SVU” — sent a letter to NBC management calling the scheduling of the forum “a disservice to the American public.”
Four years ago the news division faced criticism for allowing The Washington Post to scoop it on the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape that showed Mr. Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women; NBC News had obtained a copy of the video days before it was made public.
The division’s current leader, Cesar Conde, previously ran Telemundo and Univision. Mr. Conde, who has limited experience with the rough-and-tumble of political coverage, issued a statement on Thursday addressing the criticism.
“We share in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden. Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations,” he wrote. “We aired a town hall with Vice President Biden on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. If we were to move our town hall with President Trump to a later time slot, we would be violating our commitment to offer both campaigns access to the same audience and the same forum.”
Savannah Guthrie, an anchor on “Today,” will be the moderator, overseeing a group of inquisitive Florida voters while keeping tabs on a president who regularly lobs falsehoods and smears.
As Ms. Guthrie prepared for her hot-seat moment, one of her “Today” predecessors declared that NBC had made the wrong call. “Having dueling town halls is bad for democracy — voters should be able to watch both and I don’t think many will,” Katie Couric wrote on Twitter.