Harris and Pence face-off in vice-presidential debate

by Darlene A. White

During the 90-minute debate, plexiglass barriers surrounded, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris of California as they went head-to-head in Salt Lake City in the first and only one-on-one debate between the vice-presidential candidates. The debate was moderated by Susan Page, USA TODAY’s Washington Bureau chief.

Harris made history as she walked on the stage, becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to participate in a general election debate.

The first topic of the debate was coronavirus and the U.S. response and death toll, coming less than a week after President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announced that they both tested positive.

Trump has tried to cast his COVID-19 diagnosis and supposed recovery as a bonus. In his telling, he’s a fearless leader who took on the virus and triumphed — setting a model for bravery in the face of a pandemic.

Trump has not mentioned those in his inner circle who’ve fallen ill, nor the others on the White House staff — political and nonpartisan professionals — who are sick now.

The other topics during the debate were economy, jobs, taxes, and foreign policy, as well as race and the justice system.

Pence and Harris shared several tense moments in a conversation on COVID-19, as the coronavirus pandemic took center stage at the start of Wednesday’s debate.

At the beginning of the debate, Harris was given the first question of the night. She was asked how a Biden administration would handle the coronavirus pandemic. Harris said Trump’s handling of the situation is the “greatest failure” of any administration, citing the 210,000 deaths linked to the virus and high unemployment caused in its wake.

Harris said Trump downplayed the severity of the pandemic and encouraged people not to follow mask-wearing guidelines.

“This administration has forfeited its right to reelection based on this,” Harris said.

Harris said the high death toll shows the response from the Trump administration isn’t working.

Vice-President Pence leads the president’s coronavirus task force, which has failed to implement a comprehensive national strategy even as Trump himself recovers from the disease and the national death toll surges past 210,000 with no end in sight.

Harris said that the Biden administration would focus on “contact tracing, testing, administration of the vaccine, and making sure that it will be free for all.”

At this time, The United States leads the world in total confirmed cases, with a total of 7.5 million confirmed cases.

The Vice president defended the administration’s response while taking a shot at Biden over past plagiarism scandals. Biden throughout the campaign has laid out a COVID-19 response plan that he has repeatedly said Trump should put in place now.

“The reality is when you look at the Biden plan, it looks a little like plagiarism,” Pence said. He added that is “something that Joe Biden knows a little bit about.”

Biden withdrew from the 1988 presidential race after acknowledging he lifted phrases from a British politician without attribution.

Later in the debate, Harris said that if there is a coronavirus vaccine available during Donald Trump’s administration that is not embraced by scientific advisers but pushed by the President, she will not take it.

But if the scientific advisers like Dr. Anthony Fauci back the vaccine, she would.

“If Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely,” Harris said. “But if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.”

The Trump campaign has blasted Harris during the campaign for questioning a vaccine approved by Trump.

“Your continuous undermining of confidence in a vaccine is unacceptable,” Pence said.

The candidates also clashed on taxes — or specifically, Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns four years after repeatedly promising to do so. The New York Times reported last month that the president pays very little personal income tax but owes hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

“It’d be really good to know who the president owes money to,” Harris said.

“The one thing we know about Joe, he puts it all out there. He is honest, he is forthright,” she added. “Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been about covering up everything.”

Pence defended Trump as a job creator who has paid more than his fair share of taxes and shifted toward Biden: “On Day One, Joe Biden’s going to raise your taxes.”

During the debate, neither Pence nor Harris acknowledged whether they have had a conversation with their party’s presidential nominee about safeguards or procedures should either man become disabled.

President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden would be the oldest president ever if elected.

Pence instead used his two minutes to attack Harris’ doubt in Trump’s timeframe for a coronavirus vaccine. His answer came in part from Trump’s recent coronavirus diagnosis.

For her part, Harris used her time to discuss her late mother’s status as an immigrant and her unlikely path to the Democratic ticket.

Both candidates seem to agree it’s important for the American people to have details of the president’s health.

Harris slammed Pence over health care, saying that the Trump administration is “coming for you” if you have a preexisting condition.

Citing the Trump administration’s support for a challenge to the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court, Harris says during Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate that the Trump administration is “coming for you” if you have a preexisting condition, if you “love someone who has a preexisting condition” or if you are younger than 26 years old and covered by their parents’ health care plan.

In response, Pence says that “Obamacare was a disaster” and that he and Trump have a plan to cover people with preexisting conditions, though the Trump administration hasn’t yet released such a plan.

This debate may also mark the last debate for at least a few weeks. There are two more presidential debates scheduled between now and Nov. 3, but Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis has put the status of the second debate — currently scheduled for a week from Thursday — in doubt. Trump says he still plans to participate, but Biden has said the debate should not take place if the president is still infected with the virus due to safety concerns.

Reprinted from the Michigan Chronicle

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