Kamala Harris: Trump's handling of Covid 'greatest failure' in presidential history

8 October 2020, 04:13 | Updated: 8 October 2020, 05:32

Kamala Harris and Mike Pence faced off in the 2020 vice presidential debate
Kamala Harris and Mike Pence faced off in the 2020 vice presidential debate. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Mike Pence and Kamala Harris have clashed over coronavirus, the US economy and American race relations in the only vice presidential debate of 2020.

Thursday morning's debate between the Republican and Democratic candidates for vice president represented a far calmer and more polite exchange than last week's heated exchange between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

The pair began by discussing the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which highlighted the two parties' conflicting visions for the current state of the USA.

"The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," Ms Harris said as Pence, who leads the president's coronavirus task force, shook his head.

The vice president responded, saying: "Our nation's gone through a very challenging time this year.

"I want the American people to know, from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first."

As it happened: Kamala Harris takes on Mike Pence in vice presidential debate

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He then promised millions of doses of a so-far unconfirmed treatment before the end of 2020.

Ms Harris said the Trump administration knew "what was happening" with regard to how difficult the Covid-19 pandemic would be for the US but accused them of not telling the American public.

In response, Mr Pence commended the president's decision to shut off travel from China, saying the decision "bought us invaluable time" to coordinate the country's response to the pandemic. However, Mr Trump's move only cut off some travel from the country, and tens of thousands of people were still allowed to pour into the US.

Neither of the candidates were willing to acknowledge whether they had held a conversation with their party's presidential nominee about safeguards or procedures should either man become incapacitated.

Both Mr Trump and Mr Biden would become the oldest president in US history if elected next month.

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Ms Harris then questioned the lack of available information about Mr Trump's outstanding debts, saying it raises concerns about his motives for some major decisions.

She said, "it'd be really good to know who the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, owes money to".

The Democrat also said the health and strength of America's economy should be based on the health and strength of American workers and their families, before accusing Trump's economy of measuring its success on the wealth of rich people.

Her rival responded, saying that "from day one, Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes" and that the Democrats' Green New Deal will "bury" the American economy.

Mr Pence accused them of planning to add members to the US Supreme Court if they "somehow win this election", adding that he and Trump would maintain the nine-member panel.

"I tell you people across this country, if you cherish your Supreme Court, if you cherish the separation of powers, you need to reject the Biden-Harris ticket come November," he said.

However, Mr Biden has not said he would increase the number of justices to outweigh what would become a solid conservative-majority court with the confirmation of Mr Trump's nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

On the topic of abortion, Ms Harris said she "will always fight for a woman's right to make a decision about her own body", to which Mr Pence replied, saying he "is pro-life and won't apologise for it".

The Democrat then said justice had not been done for Breonna Taylor, who was shot multiple times in March after being woken by police at her door conducting a drug raid. A grand jury did not charge any officers for their role in Ms Taylor's death.

Mr Pence said Ms Taylor's family "has our sympathies, but I trust our justice system, a grand jury that reviews the evidence".

However, the standout moment on social media was when a fly swooped in and landed on the head of Mr Pence.

Twitter users were quick to make jokes about the comical moment, with some saying the fly should be tested for coronavirus and others saying he and the fly "went head-to-head".

In response, Mr Biden posted a picture on Twitter of him holding what looks like a fly swatter, with a caption that read: “Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly.”

He also posted a link to the iwillvote website, with the link flywillvote.com.

Others enjoyed Ms Harris putting her hand up to Mr Pence and saying, "Vice President, I'm talking", as he attempted to interrupt her.