Briefs: The fight about a virus, the climate and race

President Donald Trump, left, points towards Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, right, during the second and final presidential debate Thursday at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Associated Press

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden spent 90 minutes Thursday sparring over their approach to the coronavirus pandemic

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — 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.

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.

Debate Takeaways: Round 2 highlights policy over petulance

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden met for the second and last time on a debate stage after a previously scheduled town hall debate was scrapped after the Republican incumbent became one of the millions of Americans to contract the coronavirus.

For Trump, the matchup at Tennessee's Belmont University on Thursday was perhaps the final opportunity to change the dynamics of a race dominated, much to his chagrin, by his response to the pandemic and its economic fallout. For Biden, it was 90 minutes to solidify an apparent lead less than two weeks before the election.

Here are key takeaways: COVID-19 STILL A DRAG FOR TRUMP

Trump's difficulty articulating a defense of his handling of the coronavirus remains a drag on his campaign. The opening topic of the debate was entirely predictable — Trump has received variations of the same question in interviews and has rarely delivered a clear answer.

Asked to outline his plan for the future, Trump instead asserted his prior handling was without fault and predicted a rosy reversal to the pandemic, which has killed more than 223,000 people in the United States.

Analysis: Debate is brief interlude of normalcy in 2020 race

WASHINGTON — The second and final presidential debate, it turns out, was actually a debate — a brief interlude of normalcy in an otherwise highly abnormal year, and a reprieve for voters turned off by the candidates' noxious first faceoff. 

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden spent 90 minutes Thursday sparring over their approach to the coronavirus pandemic, the future of the nation's health insurance system and who is best positioned to de-escalate nuclear tensions with North Korea. There were heated clashes, but far fewer of the angry interruptions and crosstalk that made the opening debate nearly unwatchable. 

A mute button mandated by the debate commission helped enforce decorum, clearing the way for Trump and Biden to make their closing arguments to the nation less than two weeks from Election Day. Both men have argued with pride throughout the campaign that there is little overlap between their visions for America, and that was abundantly clear in Thursday's debate. 

It was the president more so than Biden who entered the night needing to spark a shift in the race, given the public polls that have for weeks showed him trailing both nationally and in some key battleground states. But with nearly 50 million ballots already cast through advance voting, and views of the president long ago hardened among most voters, it appeared unlikely that a more civilized debate alone would significantly recalibrate the contest. 

Trump has struggled throughout the year to shift the political terrain, unable to convince Americans that they should look past a coronavirus pandemic that has killed 225,000 Americans and infected more than 8 million. Instead, he's been saddled by sharply negative assessments of his handling of the public health crisis, including his own COVID-19 illness earlier this month. Trump was briefly hospitalized, then quickly returned to the campaign trail for rallies that feature little mask-wearing and no attempts at social distancing. 

China hopes for change if Biden wins, but little likely

BEIJING — Chinese leaders hope Washington will tone down conflicts over trade, technology and security if Joe Biden wins the Nov. 3 presidential election. But any shift is likely to be in style, not substance, as frustration with Beijing increases across the American political spectrum. 

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and their constituents seem disinclined to adopt a softer approach toward China, possibly presaging more strife ahead, regardless of the election's outcome. 

U.S.-Chinese relations have plunged to their lowest level in decades amid an array of conflicts over the coronavirus pandemic, technology, trade, security and spying.

Despite discord on so many other fronts, both parties are critical of Beijing's trade record and stance toward Hong Kong, Taiwan and religious and ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, where the ruling Communist Party has detained Muslims in political re-education camps.

The American public is equally negative. Two-thirds of people surveyed in March by the Pew Research Center had "unfavorable views" of China, the highest since Pew started asking in 2005.

UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

GENEVA — The United Nations said Friday that the two sides in Libyan military talks had reached a "historic achievement" with a permanent cease-fire agreement across the war-torn North African country. 

After mediation this week led by U.N. envoy for Libya Stephanie Turco Williams, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission reached what the U.N. called an "important turning point towards peace and stability in Libya."

Details were not immediately available, but the two sides were taking part in a signing ceremony in Geneva on Friday morning.

Libya is split between a U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east. The two sides are backed by an array of local militias as well as regional and foreign powers. The country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

"The road to a permanent cease-fire deal was often long and difficult," Williams said in a press conference in Geneva, noting that there remained a "great deal of work" to do in the coming weeks to implement the commitments. She expressed hope the agreement will succeed "in ending the suffering of Libyans and allowing those displaced by the conflict to return to their homes."

FDA approves first COVID-19 drug: antiviral remdesivir

U.S. regulators on Thursday approved the first drug to treat COVID-19: remdesivir, an antiviral medicine given to hospitalized patients through an IV.

The drug, which California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. is calling Veklury, cut the time to recovery by five days — from 15 days to 10 on average — in a large study led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

It had been authorized for use on an emergency basis since spring, and now becomes the first drug to win full Food and Drug Administration approval for treating COVID-19. President Donald Trump received it when he was sickened earlier this month.

Veklury is approved for people at least 12 years old and weighing at least 88 pounds (40 kilograms) who are hospitalized for a coronavirus infection. For patients younger than 12, the FDA will still allow the drug's use in certain cases under its previous emergency authorization.

The drug works by inhibiting a substance the virus uses to make copies of itself. Certain kidney and liver tests are required before starting patients on it to ensure it's safe for them and to monitor for any possible side effects. And the label warns against using it with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, because that can curb its effectiveness. 

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