Senator Harris and Vice President Pence during the debate

Expectedly, Vice President Mike Pence stoutly defended the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic while his Democratic Party’s counterpart, Senator Kamala Harris called it ‘the greatest failure of any presidential administration’ in recent history.

Harris did not hold back accusing the Trump-Pence White House of presiding over the “greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country”, given its handling of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the first and only Vice Presidential debate of the 2020 election.

But Vice-president Mike Pence forcefully defended Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis that has killed more than 210,000 Americans, as Wednesday night’s debate in Salt Lake City unfolded in the shadow of the President’s hospitalization for COVID-19, which has thrown the government into upheaval and upended the presidential race four weeks before election day.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Harris, the California Senator and running mate of Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, assailed Trump over his stewardship of the American government, denouncing his administration’s response to the various crises affecting the nation, from the racial injustice protests to the wildfires devastating the west coast, as well as his taxes and personal conduct in office.

But she said no failure was as great as the President’s mismanagement of COVID-19 and the ensuing economic fallout.

Harris charged that the President misled the country about the severity of the virus when it first began to spread earlier this year: “They knew, and they covered it up.”

“Frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to re-election based on this,” Harris concluded in her opening comments to Pence, who leads the White House’s coronavirus task force.

Pence acknowledged that the nation has gone through a “very challenging time this year” as a result of the outbreak, which has infected millions of Americans, including the president and many top White House officials.

“I want the American people to know, from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first,” he said. He insisted, in defiance of the facts, that the president had a clear national strategy for addressing the pandemic.

“Clearly it hasn’t worked, when you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country,” Harris retorted.

Distanced 12-feet apart and separated by plexiglass barriers, the coronavirus framed much of the debate even before the candidates stepped on to the stage.

The Pence campaign initially objected to a request for a physical barrier, but ultimately agreed. In the auditorium at the University of Utah, any guest who refused to wear a mask was to be removed.

Against this backdrop, the forum served not only as a preview of two leading presidential contenders in 2024, but as a grim reminder that the role of Vice President is to succeed the president should he become incapacitated or die while in office.

Trump, 74, has said he is “feeling GREAT” though questions remain about the severity of his infection. At 77, Biden would be the oldest US President ever to serve in office.

Neither Pence nor Harris directly answered a question about whether they had discussions about taking over the presidency.

Polls show that a majority of Americans have lost faith in Trump’s handling of the virus and blame his administration for failing to control it.

Trump, who claimed he had “learned a lot” about the virus from his own experience with it, has since downplayed its severity, likening it to the flu and urging Americans not to be afraid of it.

Given the uncertainty hanging over future presidential debates due to the President’s infection, Pence and Harris were under additional pressure to articulate their campaign messages.

Pence attempted to cast the Biden-Harris ticket as extreme, while Harris accused the administration of attempting to strip Americans of their healthcare and stoking racial division.

After the first presidential debate in Ohio devolved into a chaotic shouting match last week, moderator Susan Page of USA Today pleaded for a “Civil” discussion. Though there were sharp exchanges over issues of racism, climate and health care, there were far fewer personal insults and a much more robust discussion of the issues. – The Guardian

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