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Biden, Trump squabble over Covid response in dueling town halls

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday criticized what he called President Donald Trump’s “panicked” response to the coronavirus pandemic, while Trump defended his handling of a crisis that has killed more than 216,000 Americans.

The rivals spoke in simultaneous town halls broadcast on separate television networks after a debate originally scheduled for Thursday was called off following Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis.

Trump also dodged questions about a New York Times investigation of two decades of his tax returns, which he has refused to release publicly despite decades of precedent for presidential candidates.

The second presidential debate had originally been scheduled for Thursday, but Trump pulled out of the event after organizers decided to turn it into a virtual affair following his diagnosis two weeks ago. A final debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Senate confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee for a vacant Supreme Court seat, prompted careful answers from both candidates. Republicans have pushed to seat Barrett before the election after refusing to do so for former Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016, saying it was inappropriate in an election year.

Biden said he was not a “fan” of court-packing, the idea promoted by some Democrats of adding justices to countermand what they view as a stolen seat. But he declined to rule it out after moderator George Stephanopoulos pressed him, saying: “It depends on how this turns out.”

In a sign of Democratic determination to defeat Trump, a massive amount of money has poured into the party’s coffers in recent months.

Democratic fundraising organization ActBlue said on Thursday it collected $1.5 billion online from July to September, the most it had ever raised in one quarter. By comparison, major Republican fundraising platform WinRed said on Monday that it collected $623.5 million in the same period.