‘I voted for you’: Americans grill Trump
Donald Trump faced a rare grilling from ordinary American voters today as he participated in a televised town hall forum.
The 90-minute event, broadcast by ABC News, gave undecided voters a chance to ask the US President questions in person.
Those questions covered a range of topics, but the one that kept coming up was the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I voted for you in 2016. I'm conservative, pro-life and diabetic," said the first voter to speak, Paul Tubiana.
"I've had to dodge people that don't care about social distancing and wearing face masks. I thought you were doing a good job with the pandemic response until about May 1. Then you took your foot off the gas pedal.
"Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?"
The first question in tonight's @abc2020 town hall comes from a 2016 Trump voter who's diabetic: "I thought you were doing a good job with the pandemic response...then you took your foot off the gas pedal. Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?" pic.twitter.com/iGEyqMFsNv— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020
"Well we really didn't, Paul," Mr Trump replied.
He indicated the US was just "three or four weeks" away from having a working vaccine.
"We're starting to get very good marks. If you look at what we've done compared to other countries with the excess mortality rate, we've done very, very well," he continued.
"I feel that we've done a tremendous job, actually. It's something that - I don't feel it's been recognised like it should.
"But when you look at our testing, when you look at our swabs, when you look at our ventilators, when you look at what we've done with hospitals. And we've made a lot of governors look very good.
"We're very proud of the job we've done and we've saved a lot of lives. A tremendous number of lives."
The President repeated his claim that America's excess mortality rate was "among the best in the whole world".
According to Johns Hopkins University, the US has the world's 11th-worst rate of deaths per capita. Its case fatality rate - the proportion of confirmed infections that result in death - is far more tolerable at just 51st in the world.
America's raw death toll, at about 200,000, is the highest in the world.
"We have 4 per cent of the world's population, more than 20 per cent of the cases, more than 20 per cent of the deaths," moderator George Stephanopoulos said.
"Well we have 20 per cent of the cases because of the fact that we do much more testing. If we wouldn't do testing, you wouldn't have cases," Mr Trump argued.
He also pointed out that the US is "a very big country" by global standards.
Stephanopoulos brought up one of the revelations in Watergate reporter Bob Woodward's new book, published today.
Woodward recorded 18 interviews with the President. In one of them, back in March, Mr Trump said he had "played down" the threat of the virus in public because he did not want to create "panic".
"All through January and February, you were downplaying - by your own admission - the severity of the crisis. You didn't want to panic people," said Stephanopoulos.
"Not downplaying," Mr Trump interjected.
"Not downplaying. I don't want to drive our nation into a panic. I'm a cheerleader for this nation. I'm the one who closed up our country. I closed it up long before any of the experts thought I should, and saved hundreds of thousands of lives."
Mr Trump has often claimed every single one of his advisers, including infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci, told him not to impose the partial travel ban on people coming from China at the end of January.
In his book, Woodward reports the move was actually recommended by at least five of the President's advisers - Dr Fauci, Health Secretary Alex Azar, CDC Director Robert Redfield, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, and Mr O'Brien's deputy Matthew Pottinger.
Another of the undecided voters, Julie Bart, asked Mr Trump why he doesn't support a national mandate requiring people to wear masks, and why the President himself does not wear one more often.
"Well I do wear them when I have to, when I'm in hospitals and other locations," said Mr Trump.
"But I will say this. They said at the Democrat convention they're going to do a national mandate. They never did it. Because they've checked out, and they didn't do it.
"A good question is, like, you ask Joe Biden. They said they're going to do a national mandate on masks. They didn't do it. He never did it."
He did not explain how he expected Mr Biden to impose such a mandate before becoming president in January (should he win the election). The Democratic nominee currently holds no office.
"By the way, a lot of people don't want to wear masks," Mr Trump continued.
"There are a lot of people that think masks are not good."
"Who are those people?" asked Stephanopoulos.
"I'll tell you who those people are. Waiters," said the President.
"They come over and the serve you, and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day, where they were serving me. And they're playing with their mask.
"I'm not blaming them. I'm just saying what happens. They're playing with a mask, so the mask is over, and they're touching it. And then they're touching the plate. That can't be good. There are a lot of people."
Mr Trump pointed out, correctly, that Dr Fauci and other health experts initially told Americans they did not need to wear masks.
Uncommitted voter asks Pres. Trump in a special @ABC2020 event: "Why don’t you support a mandate for national mask wearing? And why don’t you wear a mask more often?" https://t.co/eE0UNurElz pic.twitter.com/6u5n4Riepy— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020
Stephanopoulos returned to the American death toll, asking Mr Trump whether, with the benefit of hindsight, he thought his administration should have done anything differently.
"I think we could have had two million deaths if we hadn't closed out the country," the President responded.
"So you regret nothing?" the host pressed.
"No, I think we did a great job," said Mr Trump.
He went on to repeat his assertion that the virus will "disappear" at some point.
"It is going to disappear. It is going to disappear. I still say it, it's going to disappear, George.
"We're going to get back - we're not going to have studios like this, where you have all of this empty space.
"We're going to be OK. We are going to be OK. And it is going away, and it's probably going to go away now a lot faster, because of the vaccine. It would go away without the vaccine, George."
"It would go away without the vaccine?" Stephanopoulos interjected.
"Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time it goes away. And you'll develop like a herd mentality. It's going to be herd developed, and that's going to happen. That will all happen," said Mr Trump.
"But with a vaccine it will go away very quickly. But I really believe we're rounding the corner. And I believe that strongly."
Originally published as 'I voted for you': Americans grill Trump