President Donald Trump is expected to arrive in Scranton Thursday to participate in a Fox News town hall, but unlike most of his interviews on the network, he might end up facing tough questions.
“I don’t want to give too much away, but it’ll be a good mix of questions,” said Bret Baier, who will be moderating tonight’s town hall with Martha MacCallum. “Obviously, we’ll cover election issues ... obviously the current situation with the coronavirus, the economy broadly, and then specific questions that are unique to [Pennsylvania].”
Baier and MacCallum are firmly on the “news” side of Fox News. Both have been forced to deal with the perception that Fox News acts as “state TV” for the White House due to the network’s fawning coverage of the president from opinion hosts like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro.
“I think the average viewer knows the difference between the news programs and the opinion programs,” Baier told the Inquirer. "The president likes the people who like him. We’re going to cover all sides.”
The town hall will come less than 24 hours after Trump gave a phone interview to Hannity, one of the president’s loudest cheerleaders who acts as an informal adviser behind the scenes. Expect more pushback from Baier and MacCallum tonight than Hannity offered Wednesday, when he failed to offer corrections to multiple false claims made by Trump about coronavirus.
Trump’s appearance in Scranton, the hometown of potential Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden, also serves as a reminder of how important Pennsylvania will be during the 2020 election. Trump won the state by just 44,000 votes, out of more than six million cast, in the 2016 election.
Here’s everything you need to know to watch and stream tonight’s town hall:
The town hall, which will air on Fox News, is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. and last an hour. It will be preceded by 30-minute version of Special Report anchored by Baier at 6 p.m., followed by a shortened version of The Story anchored by MacCallum at 7:30 p.m.
You can stream the town hall on the Fox News app and on FoxNews.com, but you’ll need a cable or satellite subscription. You can also stream Fox News on a host of so-called “skinny bundles,” including fuboTV (free 7-day trial), YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and AT&T Now.
Fox News will re-air the town hall in its entirety at 11 p.m.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has rarely granted interviews outside a circle of opinion hosts on Fox News.
But tonight, it’s the network’s news anchors who will be questioning the president. Co-moderating the event are Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. It’s been nearly two years since Baier has interviewed Trump, while MacCallum’s last interview with the president was all the way back in April 2017, which marked his first 100 days in office.
“That last interview was a fairly quick one on Air Force One in the Singapore summit, and that was a long time ago. But since then, almost every week, we’ve put in a request for the president," Baier said. “This obviously is a different format than an interview, but in this election cycle, I think it’s very beneficial to voters.”
Baier said Trump can be tricky to interview, especially in a town hall setting, because he tends to bounce from topic to topic.
“He answers sometimes in stream of consciousness, and it takes some time. So you have to get in on the breaks,” Baier said. “It is a challenge.”
Tickets were free, but were gone by Sunday, according to the network. Capacity for the main theater at the Scranton Cultural Center is about 1,800, according to WNEP.
Several streets in downtown Scranton — including several blocks of North Washington Avenue, Vine Street, and Adams Avenue — are closed until 11 p.m.
Despite the Democratic National Committee denying Fox News a primary debate (citing a New Yorker article that outlined the network’s promotion of Trump and his agenda), the network has hosted eight town halls with Democratic presidential candidates during the 2020 election cycle.
Nearly 2.6 million viewers tuned in to watch Sen. Bernie Sanders’ town hall in April 2019, which took place in the shadow of an abandoned steel mill in Bethlehem. Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who dropped out the presidential race Thursday morning, have declined Fox News invitations, but both have appeared in town halls on CNN and done events on MSNBC.