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WASHINGTON – With a little more than three weeks until the general election,the presidential candidates from both tickets, representatives from the campaigns and officials at the White House dodged important questions.
Answers to these questions would let voters, who are already heading to the polls and sending in their ballots, know the important context surrounding the president’s health, offer policy clarifications, and provide transparency surrounding an already tumultuous election.
The questions came during historic moments, including the vice presidential debate and as the president battled COVID-19 virus and criticism of how he handled the aftermath.
Here are three of the most consequential questions leaders sidestepped this week:
When was Trump’s last negative COVID test?
When President Donald Trump announced early last Friday he had tested positive for COVID-19, it sent shock-waves around the nation.
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In the days since, the president’s doctors and White House officials have refused to answer when Trump’s last negative coronavirus test was.
It’s also unclear what day the president first began experiencing symptoms, as mixed messaging from the White House has muddled that timeline.
Dr. Sean Conley, Trump’s physician, said Monday, “I don’t want to go backwards,” when asked about the president’s last negative test results.
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He is just one of several White House officials to decline to answer and dodge the question.
Speaking on Fox News Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows cited privacy when declining to say when Trump last tested negative.
White House deputy communications director Brian Morgenstern repeatedly declined to answer the question when pressed Friday on MSNBC, claiming the White House has not divulged details about Trump’s last negative test because it is not valuable public health information.
However, public health experts say it is important to know the date of Trump’s last negative test to determine whether the president was contagious during his travels prior to his official coronavirus diagnosis.
Trump attended several events last week, which included a debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a campaign rally and an in-person fundraiser. Without knowing when his last negative test was, it is unclear whether he could have potentially exposed people to the virus.
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Would a Biden/Harris White House support ‘packing’ the court?
During the latest debate, Vice President Mike Pence tried to get Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris to answer a question that she and Biden have been dodging: Do they support expanding the Supreme Court, something many liberals are advocating for?
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Harris deflected the question and preferred to talk about the GOP decision to move forward with filling the current Supreme Court vacancy so close to an election.
Harris then said Trump has been stacking the bench with people “who are purely ideological.” Of the 50 people Trump appointed to the court of appeals for a lifetime appointment, none are Black, she said.
She did not directly answer the question.
The proposal of adding seats to the Supreme Court has gained traction among progressives in the wake of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month.
Harris’s non-answer comes as Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate are pushing to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg. If successful, the court would have a 6-3 conservative majority.
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Biden also ducked questions Thursday regarding the issue of adding seats to the highest court in the land, saying he wouldn’t address the issue until after the November 3 election.
“They’ll know my opinion on court-packing when the election is over,” Biden said. “Now, look, I know it’s a great question, and y’all — and I don’t blame you for asking it. But you know the moment I answer that question, the headline in every one of your papers will be about that.”
Will the Trump administration commit to a peaceful transfer of power?
During the vice presidential debate, Pence sidestepped a question hanging over the election about what he would do if Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the 2020 election?
More: Will Trump accept the result of 2020 election? During debate, Pence wouldn’t say
“First and foremost, I think we’re going to win this election,” Pence said when asked by USA TODAY’s Susan Page about a peaceful transfer of power.
Pence went on to accuse Democrats of using “the last three-and-a-half years trying to overturn the results of the last election,” a reference to the impeachment inquiry and the Mueller investigation.
Trump has repeatedly refused to say whether he would commit to a peaceful transition of power, recently saying he would “see what happens” when pressed during a Sept. 23 news conference.
Instead of directly answering the question, Pence continued to rehash the false claim the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign, highlighted the Trump administration’s record, and went after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee.
He expressed “confidence” in the election, but only if Trump would win, and concluded his answer by repeating conspiracy theories about mass mail-in voting leading to rampant voter fraud.
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At no point did Pence answer if Trump would honor a peaceful transition of power if they face electoral defeat.
Thursday night, while phoning into Fox News, Trump described Pence’s non-answer as his “best answer” of the debate.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, Maureen Groppe, Nicholas Wu, Chelsey Cox, Grace Hauck, Adrianna Rodriguez; USA TODAY
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