PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- Exactly seven weeks before Election Day and two weeks before the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump was facing uncommitted voters in a 90-minute town hall special hosted by ABC News from the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
Asked Tuesday night by an uncommitted voter at "The President and the People," why he would "downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities," Trump denied ever understating the disease's threat.
"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 said.
As evidence of his claim that he "up-played" the disease "in terms of action," Trump cited a pair of travel bans imposed against China and Europe in February and March. But pressed by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, who moderated the town hall, about "his own words" about the pandemic threat, Trump said, "We did a very, very good job when we put that ban on."
"Whether you call it 'talent' or 'luck,' it was very important," Trump continued, "so we saved a lot of lives when we did that."
The president has faced backlash in recent days after comments he made to journalist Bob Woodward in March which appeared to conflict with his dismissive public stance on the virus at the time -- a virus that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic populations.
Meantime, presented with the allegations in The Atlantic magazine that he made disparaging comments about American troops, Trump slammed the reporting as "fake."
"It's easy because I never made those statements," Trump said, defending that he wanted to visit the cemetery on his 2018 trip to Paris. "As far as John McCain, I was never a fan of John McCain. I never thought he treated our vets well. He didn't do the job. I was never a fan of his. And I think that's fine and everybody knows that and I said it to his face."
Trump went on to say his actions in office show his support for the military.
"I have done so much for our vets and for our military. I rebuilt our military. Our military, when I came into this great office, our military was depleted, it was in the worst shape it was in probably ever. It was depleted. The planes were old and broken, the ships, everything. You see what I've done. I've rebuilt, $2.5 trillion. And you think that was easy getting that money from Democrats? Because they don't like the military," Trump claimed.
Asked how he responds to former top military advisers in his administration like former Defense Secretary James Mattis and former national security adviser John Bolton who have each publicly said he's unfit for office, Trump painted them as "disgruntled employees."
"Mattis was a highly overrated general. He didn't do the job. He didn't do good on ISIS," Trump said, continuing to insist he fired Mattis, though Mattis says he resigned. "John Bolton, all he wanted to do is blow people up."
Trump went on to say Americans deploying to the Middle East has been "the worst decision in the history of our country" and he's working to move more troops out.