Election 2020: CNN town hall with Joe Biden

By Melissa Macaya, Kyle Blaine, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 1254 GMT (2054 HKT) September 18, 2020
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11:06 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

6 key lines from Joe Biden's CNN town hall

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks with CNN's Anderson Cooper at the CNN Presidential Town Hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, September 17.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks with CNN's Anderson Cooper at the CNN Presidential Town Hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, September 17. Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden discussed an array of topics tonight during his CNN town hall, including President Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic, policing in the US and what his campaign stands for.

Here are some of Biden's most notable quotes from tonight's event:

  • Trump's response to the pandemic: "But he knew it. He knew it, and did nothing. It is close to criminal. ... The idea that you are not going to not tell people what you have been told that this virus is incredibly contagious — seven times more contagious than the flu — you breathe the air and you get it sucked into your lungs — what has he done?"
  • Police must be held accountable: "The vast majority of police are decent, honorable people. One of the things I've found is, the only people who don't like bad cops more than we don't like them are police officers. And so what we have to do is we have to have a much more transparent means by which we provide for accountability within police departments," Biden said.
  • When it comes to the pandemic, trust the science: "I don't trust the President on vaccines. I trust Dr. [Anthony] Fauci. If Fauci says a vaccine is safe, I would take the vaccine. We should listen to the scientists, not to the President," Biden said.
  • Characterizing his campaign: “I view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue,” Biden said. “All Trump can see from Park Avenue is Wall Street. All he thinks about as the stock market.”
  • Trump's troubling administration: "I've been doing this a long time. I never, ever thought I would see such a thoroughly, totally irresponsible administration."
  • Bridging the divide: "I plan to unite the nation. I'm running as a Democrat but I'm going to be everyone's president. I'm not going to be a Democratic president. I'm going to be America's president."

Read about the top takeaways from the town hall here.

9:27 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Biden: "I'm running as a Democrat, but I'm going to be everyone's president"

Source: CNN
Source: CNN

Voter Susan Connors, who runs a local business, asked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden what his plans are to build a bridge between Democrats and voters from the opposing party to lead the country "forward toward a common future." Connors described seeing a "sea of Trump flags and yard signs" when she looked over her Biden sign from her front yard. 

"I plan to unite the nation. I'm running as a Democrat but I'm going to be everyone's president. I'm not going to be a Democratic president. I'm going to be America's president," Biden said in CNN's town hall.

The former vice president touted his ability to unify people.

"I have made my whole career based upon bringing people together and bringing the parties together. I've been relatively good at doing that," Biden said.

Watch the exchange:

9:27 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Biden backs continuing fracking as a "transition" to clean energy

From CNN's Dan Merica

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at the CNN Presidential Town Hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at the CNN Presidential Town Hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday. Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

Joe Biden said he supports continuing the use of hydraulic fracturing to open underground natural gas formations — a practice known as fracking — as a way to “transition” to cleaner kinds of energy.

Biden’s position on fracking, which is out of step with many in his party who would like to see the practice ended as a way to combat climate change, could politically help the former vice president in states like Pennsylvania, home to large natural gas deposits.

Biden has said he wants to gradually move away from the practice.

“Yes, I do. I do,” Biden said when asked by a voter if he would “support the continuation of fracking safely and with proper guidelines.”

Biden said he would also support putting union laborers to work to cap wells that are leaking.

“It’s important for this community. It’s important for Pennsylvania and Ohio and other states. It’s an important business and it’s a lot of wages involved in that,” Biden said. “But beyond that, beyond that we can also get people working now capping the wells that are left uncapped right now across this region.”

When asked by Anderson Cooper if he is trying to have it both ways on fracking, Biden said fracking “has to continue because we need a transition.”

“We’re going to get to net zero emissions by 2050 and we’ll get to net zero power emissions by 2035,” Biden said. “But there is no rationale to eliminate (fracking) right now.”

Watch more:

10:48 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Fact check: Biden falsely claims that Trump held the Bible upside down

From CNN's Holmes Lybrand

During the town hall, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden attacked President Trump for posing for pictures while holding a Bible in front of a church after protesters were forcibly removed from a park across from the White House. Biden suggested that Trump held the Bible upside down, and then retreated back to a bunker.

Biden said the protesters were removed so Trump could “walk across to a protestant church and hold a bible upside down — I don’t know if he ever opened it — upside down, and then go back to a bunker in the White House.”

Facts First: Biden gets two facts wrong here. Trump did not hold a Bible upside down and his visit to the bunker was a few days before this event.

On May 29, Trump was briefly taken to a White House bunker amid intense protests that evening. This was three days before the visit outside of St. John’s.

While posing in front of the church, Trump held a Bible out for the cameras. Photos and videos show that Trump held the Bible right side up.

9:30 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Biden: Do you feel safer in "Donald Trump’s America?"

From CNN's Gregor Krieg

President Donald Trump has repeatedly warned that electing Joe Biden would lead to widespread civil unrest and violence in the streets.

Biden, on Thursday night, joked about the claims, reminding Americans that Trump – despite his suggestions otherwise – is the one in the White House now, currently presiding over a country that has seen peaceful protesters killed and White supremacist groups march proudly through major cities.

The “President talks about, ‘in Joe Biden's America,’ I gotta remind him, he may be really losing it. He's president. I'm not president,” Biden said. “

This is Donald Trump's America. You feel safer in Donald Trump's America? When he incites these kinds of things?"

Biden repeatedly condemned, as he’s done countless times in the past few months, any kind of violent protesting, rioting or looting. He also pointed out that one of Trump's former top aides, Kellyanne Conway, said publicly that those things were politically beneficial to Trump.

“The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns," Conway said on Fox News in August, "the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order."

The former vice president also blasted Trump for not calling out far-right hate groups with the vigor he attacks Democratic officials and left-wing protesters.

“Folks, I am waiting for the day when (Trump) says, ‘I condemn all of those White supremacists, I condemn those militia guys, as much as I do every other organizational structure,’” Biden said. 

Watch the moment play out:

10:53 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Fact check: Biden’s claim that CDC director said masks could save 100,000 lives

From CNN's Tara Subramanian

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden claimed Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contradicted the President's stance on mask usage by suggesting widespread mask wearing could save 100,000 lives between now and January.

"By the way, his own CDC Director contradicted him recently. He said, if, in fact, you just wore this mask, nothing else but this mask, you would save between now and January another 100,000 lives," Biden said.

Facts First: While Redfield did advocate for wearing masks to stop the spread of coronavirus in a congressional hearing Wednesday, and Trump did later say that Redfield misspoke, CNN could not find any record of Redfield providing these specific numbers concerning the number of lives that could be saved by mask-wearing. 

Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Redfield said, "I'm not going to comment directly about the President but I am going to comment as the CDC Director that facemasks, these face masks, are the most important, powerful public health tool we have."

"I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings," Redfield added. "I've said it, if we did it for six, 8, 10, 12 weeks, we'd bring this pandemic under control."

He made headlines for further saying, "I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take the Covid vaccine.

Reached for comment, the Biden campaign pointed CNN to the latest forecast from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). As of early September, the IHME model predicts 224,000 more people in the US could die from the coronavirus by January, but with near-universal mask use the number of projected additional fatalities could decrease by more than half, or at least 100,000.

CNN has reached out to the CDC for comment.

9:13 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Biden says he would decrease the presence of the US military abroad

Source: CNN
Source: CNN

When it comes to deploying the US military abroad under his presidency, Joe Biden said their presence would be for counterterrorism purposes, he said tonight during CNN's town hall.

Biden said he was "opposed to the significant increase in our presence at the time in Afghanistan."

"We have to be in a position where we can make it clear that if need be we could respond to terrorist activities coming out of that region directed toward the United States. It does not require a large force presence," he said.

Watch more:

11:02 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Fact check: Biden’s claim about being the first president without an Ivy League degree

From CNN's By Subramaniam

According to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the media claimed his election would set a precedent.

 "When you guys started talking on television about Biden, if he wins he’ll be the first person without an Ivy League degree to be elected President, I’m thinking who the hell makes you think I need an Ivy League degree to be President?”

Facts First: Not all past presidents graduated from college, let alone from the Ivy League. If elected, Biden would be the first president without an Ivy League degree since Ronald Reagan.

9:08 p.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Biden: I benefited from White privilege

From CNN's Gregory Krieg

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at the CNN Presidential Town Hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at the CNN Presidential Town Hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday. Gabriella Demczuk for CNN

In one of his interviews with journalist Bob Woodward, President Donald Trump was asked if he believed he’d benefited from “White privilege.”

Trump said no – and mocked Woodward for even suggesting it.

Biden got the same question on Thursday night. His answer: Yes.

“Sure, I benefited just because I didn’t have to go through what my Black brothers and sisters have had to go through,” Biden said.

Biden didn’t go any further on the subject, though, again framing the choice between him and Trump as one centered fundamentally on class.

“Growing up here in Scranton, we’re used to guys to look down their nose at us,” Biden said. “We (are used) to people looking at us and thinking more suckers, look at us and think that we don’t, we’re not equivalent to them. If you didn’t have a college degree, you must be stupid.”

The former vice president, who served as a senator from Delaware for decades before that, noted news coverage that said he would be the first person without an Ivy League degree elected president. In fact, Biden and Harris are first Democratic ticket since 1984 with no Ivy League grad on it.

Biden attended the University of Delaware, before going on to the Syracuse University College of Law. Harris went to Howard University before returning out west to the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

"We are as good as anybody else," Biden said of himself and others from Scranton. "And guys like Trump, who inherit everything, and squandered what they inherited, are the people I've always had a problem with. Not the people who are busting their neck." 

Watch the moment: