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Last Debate: Virus, Climate,  10/23 06:33

   President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden fought over how 
to tame the raging coronavirus during the campaign's closing debate, largely 
shelving the rancor that overshadowed their previous face-off in favor of a 
more substantive exchange that highlighted their vastly different approaches to 
the major domestic and foreign challenges facing the nation.

   NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger 
Joe Biden fought over how to tame the raging coronavirus during the campaign's 
closing debate, largely shelving the rancor that overshadowed their previous 
face-off in favor of a more substantive exchange that highlighted their vastly 
different approaches to the major domestic and foreign challenges facing the 

   The Republican president declared the virus, which killed more than 1,000 
Americans on Thursday alone, will "go away." Biden countered that the nation 
was heading toward "a dark winter."

   "Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as 
president of the United States of America," Biden said.

   With less than two weeks until the election, Trump portrayed himself as the 
same outsider he first pitched to voters four years ago, repeatedly saying he 
wasn't a politician. Biden, meanwhile, argued that Trump was an incompetent 
leader of a country facing multiple crises and tried to connect what he saw as 
the president's failures to the everyday lives of Americans, especially when it 
comes to the pandemic.

   The president, who promised a vaccine within weeks, said the worst problems 
are in states with Democratic governors, a contention at odds with rising cases 
in states that voted for Trump in 2016. Biden, meanwhile, vowed that his 
administration would defer to scientists on battling the pandemic and said that 
Trump's divisive approach on suffering states hindered the nation's response.

   "I don't look at this in terms of the way he does -- blue states and red 
states," Biden said. "They're all the United States. And look at all the states 
that are having such a spike in the coronavirus -- they're the red states."

   After a first debate defined by angry interruptions, the Thursday event 
featured a mostly milder tone. And in a campaign defined by ugly personal 
attacks, the night featured a surprising amount of substantive policy debate as 
the two broke sharply on the environment, foreign policy, immigration and 
racial justice.

   When Trump repeatedly asked Biden if he would "close down the oil industry," 
the Democratic standardbearer said he "would transition from the oil industry, 
yes," and that he would replace it by renewable energy "over time." Trump, 
making a direct appeal to voters in energy producing states like Texas and the 
vital battleground of Pennsylvania, seized upon the remark as "a big statement."

   Perhaps sensing that the comment could soon appear in Trump campaign ads, 
Biden did a little clean-up boarding his plane after the debate, declaring, 
"We're not going to ban fossil fuels. We'll get rid of the subsidies of fossil 
fuels but not going to get rid of fossil fuels for a long time."

   As the debate swept to climate change, Trump explained his decision to pull 
the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord negotiated in 2015, declaring it was 
an unfair pact that would have cost the country trillions of dollars and hurt 

   Trump repeatedly claimed Biden's plan to tackle climate change and invest in 
green industries was developed by "AOC plus three," referring to New York Rep. 
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Biden chuckled during much of Trump's answer and 
said, "I don't know where he comes from."

   On race, Biden called out Trump's previous refusals to condemn white 
supremacists and his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement, declaring that 
the president "pours fuel on every single racist fire."

   "You know who I am. You know who he is. You know his character. You know my 
character," Biden said. The rivals' reputations for "honor and for telling to 
truth" are clear, he said.

   Trump countered by pointing out his efforts on criminal justice reform and 
blasting Biden's support of a 1990s Crime Bill that many feel 
disproportionately incarcerated Black men. Staring into the crowd, he declared 
himself "the least racist person in this room."

   Turning to foreign policy, Biden accused Trump of dealing with a "thug" 
while holding summits with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. And closer 
to home, the former vice president laced into the Trump administration's policy 
of separating children from their parents trying to illegally cross the 
southern border.

   Biden said that America has learned from a New York Times report that Trump 
paid only $750 a year in federal taxes while holding "a secret bank account" in 
China. The former vice president then noted he's released all of his tax 
returns going back 22 years and challenged the president to release his 
returns, saying, "What are you hiding?"

   Trump said he closed his former account in China and claimed his accountants 
told him he "prepaid tens of millions of dollars" in taxes. However, as he has 
for the past four years after promising to release his taxes, he declined to 
say when he might do so.

   Trump said that when it comes to health care, he would like "to terminate" 
the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, even amid a pandemic, and come up "with a 
brand new beautiful health care," that protects coverage for preexisting 
conditions. Biden said the president has been talking about making such a move 
for years but "he's never come up with a plan."

   He also denounced Trump's claim that Biden wanted to socialize medicine, 
creating daylight between himself and the more liberal members of his party 
whom he defeated in the Democratic primaries.

   "He thinks he's running against somebody else," the former vice president 
said. "He's running against Joe Biden. I beat all those other people because I 
disagreed with them."

   It remained to be seen if Trump, who is trailing in the race, managed to 
change the trajectory of the campaign. More than 47 million votes already have 
been cast, and there are fewer undecided voters than at this point in previous 
election years.

   The debate, moderated by NBC's Kristen Welker, was a final chance for each 
man to make his case to a television audience of tens of millions. And 
questions swirled beforehand as to how Trump, whose hectoring performance at 
the first debate was viewed by aides as a mistake that turned off viewers, 
would perform amid a stretch of the campaign in which he has taken angry aim at 
the news media and unleashed deeply personal attacks on Biden and his adult son.

   When he feels cornered, Trump has often lashed out, going as negative as 
possible. In one stunning moment during the 2016 campaign, in an effort to 
deflect from the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape in which he is heard 
boasting about groping women, Trump held a press conference just before a 
debate with Hillary Clinton during which he appeared with women who had accused 
Bill Clinton of sexual assault. He then invited them to watch as audience 

   In a similar move, Trump's campaign held another surprise pre-debate news 
conference, this time featuring Tony Bobulinski, a man who said he was Hunter 
Biden's former business partner and made unproven allegations that the vice 
president's son consulted with his father on China-related business dealings.

   Trump made similar, if vague, accusations from the debate stage, but 
exchanges about Hunter Biden did not dominate the night as aides on both 
campaigns thought might happen. Biden declared the discussion about family 
entanglements "malarkey" and accused Trump of not wanting to talk about the 
substantive issues.

   Turning to the camera and the millions of people watching at home, Biden 
said, "It's not about his family and my family. It's about your family, and 
your family is hurting badly."

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