Trump denies downplaying virus, despite Woodward recording

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — President Donald Trump denied during a televised town hall Tuesday that he had played down the threat of the coronavirus earlier this year, although there is an audio recording of him stating he did just that.

Trump participated in the event with uncommitted voters, hosted by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, in a warmup of sorts two weeks before he faces Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the first presidential debate. Taped at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, it featured Trump taking questions from an audience of just 21 voters to comply with state and local coronavirus regulations. It marked Trump's first time facing direct questions from voters in months, and an opportunity for the Republican to test-drive his message before the critical debates.

In an exchange with one voter, Trump sought to counter his admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he was deliberately “playing it down” when discussing the threat of COVID-19 to Americans earlier this year. Despite audio of his comments being released, Trump told the voter: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action."

“My action was very strong,” Trump added, according to ABC.

Trump has been unusually mum on his debate preparations ahead of the first debate, scheduled for Sept. 29 in Cleveland. On Tuesday, he told Fox News that he believes his day job is the best practice for his three scheduled showdowns with Biden.

“Well, I sort of prepare every day by just doing what I’m doing,” Trump said. He noted that he had been in California on Monday and had been to other states before that to make the point that he’s getting out and about more than Biden.

Trump, in the Fox interview, lowered expectations for his Democratic opponent's performance, judging Biden “a disaster” and “grossly incompetent” in the primary debates. He assessed Biden as “OK” and “fine” in his final one-on-one debate with Bernie Sanders before clinching the nomination.

Trump's rhetoric on Biden marked a departure from the traditional efforts by candidates to talk up their rivals' preparation for televised debates, in hopes of setting an unattainably high bar for their performance.

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President Trump's indoor campaign rally in Nevada
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President Trump's indoor campaign rally in Nevada
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters try to catch a hat thrown into the crowd as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Some of thousands of people who turned out Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, wait to enter a President Donald Trump campaign re-election rally for at an equipment rental assembly plant in Henderson, Nev. Officials in the city outside Las Vegas warned Xtreme Manufacturing by letter and verbally that the event violated COVID-19 emergency directives by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak prohibiting gatherings to no more than 50 people in a private or public setting. The city said it might fine organizers up to $500 per violation and suspend or revoke its business license. (AP Photo/Ken Ritter)
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters react as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump reacts to the crowd as he speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters wait for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters wait for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A supporter waits for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters wait for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters wait for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Dana White, head of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, center, accompanied by some Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters, listen as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. Also pictured is Rick Harrison, who appears on the television show Pawn Stars, left. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters of President Donald Trump wait for him to take the stage at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
El presidente de Estados Unidos, Donald Trump, llega para hablar en un mitin en Xtreme Manufacturing, el domingo 13 de septiembre de 2020, en Henderson, Nevada. (AP Foto/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters wait for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Supporters wait for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Kimberly Guilfoyle speaks at a campaign event for U.S. President Donald Trump at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: A supporter holds up a "Peaceful Protester" sign during a campaign event for U.S. President Donald Trump at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Supporters hold up signs during a campaign event for U.S. President Donald Trump at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump claps after speaking at a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Kimberly Guilfoyle waves after speaking at a campaign event for U.S. President Donald Trump at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures after speaking at a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up after speaking at a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The second of the three scheduled debates, set to be held in Miami on Oct. 15, will feature a similar “town meeting” style.

Biden is to have his own opportunity to hone his skills taking questions from voters on Thursday, when he participates in a televised town hall hosted by CNN.

The visit to Pennsylvania is Trump’s second to the battleground state in the last week, after he attended a Sept. 11 memorial event in Shanksville on Friday.

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