PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Fielding compelling questions on voters’ real-world issues, President Donald Trump denied throughout a televised city corridor that he had performed down the specter of the coronavirus earlier this 12 months, though there’s an audio recording of him stating he did simply that.

Trump, in what may effectively be a preview of his efficiency within the presidential debates lower than two weeks away, solid doubt on the broadly accepted scientific conclusions of his personal administration strongly urging the usage of face coverings and appeared to bat away the suggestion that the nation has racial inequities.

“Properly, I hope there’s not a race downside,” Trump mentioned Tuesday when requested about his marketing campaign rhetoric seeming to disregard the historic injustices carried out in opposition to Black People.

Face-to-face with on a regular basis voters for the primary time in months, Trump was defensive however resisted agitation as he was pressed on his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and why he does not extra aggressively promote the usage of masks to scale back the unfold of the illness.

“There are those that don’t suppose masks are good,” Trump mentioned, although his personal Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention strongly urges their use.

The occasion, hosted by ABC Information’ George Stephanopoulos, was a warmup of kinds earlier than Trump faces Democratic nominee Joe Biden within the first presidential debate on Sept. 29. Taped on the Nationwide Structure Middle in Philadelphia, it featured Trump taking questions from an viewers of simply 21 voters to adjust to state and native coronavirus laws.

Trump sought to counter his admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he was intentionally “taking part in it down” when discussing the specter of COVID-19 to People earlier this 12 months. Regardless of audio of his feedback being launched, Trump mentioned: “Yeah, effectively, I didn’t downplay it. I truly, in some ways, I up-played it, when it comes to motion.”

“My motion was very sturdy,” Trump added. “I’m not seeking to be dishonest. I don’t need individuals to panic.”

Trump additionally insisted he was not mistaken when he praised China’s response to the virus in January and February, saying he trusted Xi Jinping, the Chinese language chief. “He advised me that it was below management, that every little thing was and it turned out to be not true,” Trump mentioned,

Trump additionally prompt the virus would disappear with no vaccine, claiming the nation would develop a herd immunity with time, however he did not point out the lives that may be misplaced alongside the best way.

“It’s going to be herd-developed, and that’s going to occur. That can all occur,” Trump mentioned. “However with a vaccine, I feel it can go away in a short time.”

The questions from uncommitted voters have been pointed and poignant: a diabetic man who mentioned he felt he’d been thrown “below the bus” by mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic; a Black lady with a illness that left her uninsurable till the Obama well being care regulation got here alongside who’s fearful that she may lose protection once more; a Black pastor who questioned Trump’s marketing campaign motto to “Make America Nice Once more.”

“When has America been nice for African People within the ghetto of America?” the pastor requested.

Requested about what he was doing to handle protests in opposition to racial injustice, Trump lamented a “lack of respect” and the absence of “retribution” for many who conflict with or perform assaults in opposition to cops. Trump on Sunday known as for the loss of life penalty for the person who shot and critically injured two Los Angeles Sheriff’s Division deputies over the weekend.

Trump has been unusually mum on his debate preparations forward of the primary debate, set to happen in Cleveland. On Tuesday, he advised Fox Information that he believes his day job is the most effective follow for his three scheduled showdowns with Biden.

“Properly, I type of put together every single day by simply doing what I’m doing,” Trump mentioned. He famous that he had been in California on Monday and had been to different states earlier than that to make the purpose that he’s getting out and about greater than Biden.

One individual prone to examine the replay: Biden. Getting back from an extended day of campaigning in Florida, Biden mentioned at his aircraft that he was getting ready for the debates principally by going again via what Trump has mentioned prior to now. However he prompt he had but to provoke mock debates, saying he was unaware who would play the function of Trump in his preparations.

Trump, within the Fox interview, lowered expectations for his Democratic opponent’s efficiency, judging Biden “a catastrophe” and “grossly incompetent” within the major debates. He assessed Biden as “OK” and “high quality” in his closing one-on-one debate with Bernie Sanders earlier than clinching the nomination.

Trump’s rhetoric on Biden marked a departure from the normal efforts by candidates to speak up their rivals’ preparation for televised debates, in hopes of setting an unattainably excessive bar for his or her efficiency.

The second of the three scheduled debates, set to be held in Miami on Oct. 15, will function the same “city assembly” type.

Biden is to have his personal alternative to hone his expertise taking questions from voters on Thursday, when he participates in a televised city corridor hosted by CNN.

The go to to Pennsylvania is Trump’s second to the battleground state within the final week, after he attended a Sept. 11 memorial occasion in Shanksville on Friday.

Miller reported from Washington. AP author Will Weissert contributed from Orlando, Florida.