The Latest: Trump says he didn’t downplay virus, but he did

President Donald Trump talks with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos before a town hall at National Constitution Center, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the 2020 presidential campaign (all times local):

9:55 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he didn’t downplay the coronavirus pandemic, even though he told journalist Bob Woodward that he did so intentionally.

Trump said during an ABC News town hall in Philadelphia on Tuesday: “I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action. My action was very strong.” The answer came in response to a question from an undecided voter about why Trump would purposely downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families in minority communities.

Trump told the legendary Washington Post reporter that he always wanted to “play it down” because he didn’t want people to panic. He also called the virus “deadly stuff.” Trump’s comments were captured on a recording Woodward made for his latest book, “Rage,” which was published Tuesday.

Three days after delivering his “deadly” assessment in a private call with Woodward, he told a New Hampshire rally on Feb. 10, “It’s going to be fine.”

More than 195,000 people in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus, far more than any other country. More than 6.5 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE:

President Donald Trump was in Washington on Tuesday for a White House ceremony celebrating Israel signing pacts with two Gulf Arab states. He is also scheduled to participate in an ABC town hall event in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. His Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, meanwhile, was in the battleground state of Florida on Tuesday for a roundtable with veterans in Tampa and a Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff event in Kissimmee.

Read more:

— Trump: Israeli pacts with 2 Arab states signal ‘new’ Mideast

— Biden seeks to woo Latinos in 1st trip to Florida as nominee

— Trump takes questions in TV town hall as debate warm-up

— Trump highlights foreign policy wins as he courts voters

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

9 p.m.

Joe Biden is expressing his strongest support yet for Puerto Rican statehood, though he says the decision must be made by residents of the island.

Biden said Tuesday night at a Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff event in Kissimmee, Florida, that he believes statehood “would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally.” But Biden emphasized that “the people of Puerto Rico must decide, and the United States federal government must respect and act on that.”

Biden had previously declined to take a position on the issue. During the last referendum on statehood, an overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of becoming a state.

Biden’s remarks came as part of a broader effort to appeal to Latinos in Florida and particularly Puerto Ricans, which make up one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in central Florida. Democrats have expressed concerns that Biden may be slipping in the state, particularly with influential Latino voters.

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7:45 p.m.

Joe Biden is calling President Donald Trump a “fool” for comments he’s made questioning Biden’s mental acuity and suggesting Biden takes performance-enhancing drugs.

During an interview with Tampa’s NBC affiliate Tuesday, Biden was asked about Trump’s accusations that he is “mentally shot” and has taken drugs to boost his debate performance.

Biden dismissed the president’s comments, calling them “foolish” and declaring, “I’m looking forward to the debate and he’s a fool.”

The Democratic presidential nominee continued: “Get ready, Mr. President. Here I come.”

The two will meet for their first presidential debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland.

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6:10 p.m.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is urging the campaigns of President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden to abide by the state’s guidelines for slowing the spread of the coronavirus when the candidates visit Minnesota on Friday.

In a letter to both campaigns Tuesday, the Democratic governor wrote, “Partner with us in the fight against COVID-19.”

Trump has an airport rally scheduled for Friday in the north-central Minnesota city of Bemidji. Biden’s campaign has not yet announced a city or venue for his visit.

Walz noted that Minnesota requires face masks inside public places and strongly encourages them for outdoor gatherings. Trump has largely shunned face masks, while Biden has encouraged their use.

The governor did not say in his letter how state and local officials will respond if either campaign fails to follow the guidelines for their events. Walz spokesperson Teddy Tschann said they hope to hear back from the campaigns soon, and that they’ll comply voluntarily.

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4:55 p.m.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says ideology shouldn’t play a role in the U.S. response to wildfires and climate change.

She didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name on Tuesday, but her remarks came a day after he visited California and again cast doubt on the science behind climate change. He has often sparred with state officials over the response to fires and has advocated for raking forests.

The California senator is visiting her home state for the first time as Joe Biden’s running mate. She joined Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom for a briefing about a wildfire that tore through the Sierra National Forest beginning Labor Day weekend.

Ash fell from the sky around her, and the air smelled strongly of smoke.

Dean Gould, forest supervisor for the Sierra National Forest, says officials have never seen a more aggressive fire in the area.

Harris and Newsom then walked through a burned-out property.

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4:35 p.m.

Joe Biden is set to meet virtually with Senate Democrats for the first time since becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

That’s according to a Democratic aide who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss Thursday’s private session.

Biden represented Delaware in the Senate for 36 years before heading to the White House to serve as President Barack Obama’s vice president. He tapped California Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice presidential nominee.

As vice president, Biden would occasionally visit the Capitol to join his colleagues for their weekly policy sessions. During Thursday’s private session, he will join the Democrats’ caucus call to discuss priorities ahead of the November election.

— By Lisa Mascaro

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2:40 p.m.

Joe Biden is tearing into President Donald Trump for his reported remarks referring to fallen soldiers as “suckers.”

Biden held a roundtable in Tampa, Florida, focused on veterans in his first visit back to the battleground state since he became the Democratic presidential nominee.

Biden says Trump “doesn’t seem to be able to conceive the idea of selfless service,” referencing Trump’s reported comments calling fallen World War I soldiers “suckers” and “losers.” Trump has denied the comments, but many were confirmed independently by The Associated Press.

Biden went on to outline his commitments to the troops and his own experience supporting service members and their families as vice president. He spoke about his late son Beau’s service in the Delaware Army National Guard, declaring that “he’s no sucker.”

Biden says troops “deserve a commander in chief who respects their sacrifice” and “will never betray the values they defend.”

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1:40 p.m.

Joe Biden’s campaign manager is defending his travel schedule and voter outreach tactics as the former vice president campaigns in Florida.

In an interview with Politico on Tuesday, Jen O’Malley Dillon says, “I welcome the bed-wetting,” referring to worries among even some of Biden’s supporters. She says it shows people “understand what’s at stake.”

But she insisted the campaign and Democratic Party infrastructure is reaching voters in battleground states, including Florida, even without knocking on doors or holding large in-person events. Further, she turned the question back on President Donald Trump and his open flouting of public health guidelines during the pandemic.

“I was horrified to see the pictures from last night,” she said of Trump’s indoor rally in Arizona, where masks were sparse and social distancing was not observed. “People will die because of these types of events, and that’s from the president of the United States.”

She says Trump’s actions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic are “emblematic of his lack of leadership” and she says the campaign will stay focused on that.