Trump strikes different tone as debate opens, then grows more combative

President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE adopted a more measured tone at the start of the final presidential debate as he and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day Business lobby calls for administration to 'pump the brakes' on vaccine mandate Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Afghanistan reckoning shows no signs of stopping MORE sparred in the first section focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

The debate grew more combative and personal as it continued, as Biden brought up Trump’s personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiPress: No excuse for Garland to not prosecute Bannon Lev Parnas found guilty of breaking campaign finance laws Giuliani associate Lev Parnas won't testify at trial MORE, claiming he was being used as a “Russian pawn,” and Trump went on to press Biden on his son Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings.

Still, the debate seemed more organized and less contentious than the first one, perhaps due in part to the new rule implemented by the Commission on Presidential Debates that muted candidates’ microphones so that each could have two minutes of uninterrupted time to speak at the beginning of each 15-minute segment.

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Trump was widely criticized for an overly aggressive performance during the first debate on Sept. 29. Republicans viewed it as a missed opportunity largely of Trump's own making to draw a clear contrast with Biden.

This time the president did not constantly shout over Biden or the moderator.

Trump, who received the first question from moderator and NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, defended his response to the coronavirus, acknowledging recent spikes in cases in the United States but insisted that they would soon be “gone.”

Trump also sought to convey a sense of optimism, insisting that a possible vaccine is on the way as he has for several weeks and invoking his own COVID-19 diagnosis in advocating for the cutting-edge cures that have been developed.

“It will go away and I say we’re rounding the turn. We are rounding the corner. It is going away,” Trump insisted.

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Biden responded by placing blame on Trump for the roughly 200,000 Americans killed by the virus, accusing him of having no plan to address it.

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

The candidates went on to spar about Trump’s response to the virus. While they expressed their differences, the debate featured far fewer interruptions than the first debate and the candidates often were more patient in their responses, waiting to offer them when invited by Welker.