U.S. Republican Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic Party rival Kamala Harris on Wednesday squared off over the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues during their only debate.
Unlike the September 30 clash between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden that was marred by interruptions and insults, Wednesday’s was civil and to a large extent, orderly.
However, Mr Pence and Ms Harris dodged a number of questions and spoke beyond their allotted time during the 90-minute debate moderated by Susan Page of USA Today.
Consequently, Ms Page has come under fire on Twitter for allowing the candidates to get away with it.
Opening the night on what would Mr Biden do differently in the COVID-19 response, Ms Harris slammed the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic.
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” she said.
She accused the Trump administration of hiding important information about the disease from the public after being well briefed on January 28.
Ms Harris said the administration still had no plan, and went further to highlight Mr Biden’s which include contact tracing, testing and administration of vaccine.
“Frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to reelection,” she said.
Responding, Mr Pence defended the administration’s response, including restriction of travel from the pandemic epicentre in China, a move he said Mr Biden opposed.
The Vice President, who heads the country’s presidential taskforce on COVID-19, dodged a question on why the U.S. death toll was higher than that of other wealthy countries.
Instead, he highlighted steps taken by the Trump administration to manage the virus, saying that Mr Biden’s plan was part of what the administration had been doing “every step of the way”.
“And quite frankly, when I looked at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine, it looks a little bit like plagiarism,” he said.
When asked whether she would take a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Trump administration before the November 3 election, Ms Harris said she would only, if approved by prominent U.S. public health professionals.
“If the public health professionals, if Dr Anthony Fauci, if the doctors, tell us to take it, I would be the first to take it, absolutely.
“But if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I am not taking it,” she said.
Mr Pence replied, saying he thought it was unreasonable for her to continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine that would save people’s lives.
Turning to Ms Harris he said: “And, senator, I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives,” he said.
Mr Pence also dodged a question on whether he had reached an agreement with Mr Trump on taking over the presidency in the event of the president’s disability.
Instead, he elected to go back to the issue of vaccine, even when the moderator urged him to move on.
Ms Harris, who avoided the same question, dug into her biography and pointed out that Mr Biden chose her as running mate because they had a lot in common.
The candidates also clashed on racial justice, the economy, climate change, China, health, among others.
On racial justice, Mr Pence noted that while the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25 was shocking, there was no justification for the rioting and looting that followed.
He said Mr Biden’s stand that America was systemically racist and that law enforcement had an implicit bias against minorities was “a great insult.”
Responding, Ms Harris slammed Mr Trump for refusing to condemn white supremacists during the Sept. 29 debate.
Ms Harris dodged when asked whether Mr Biden would expand the number of seats of the Supreme Court, which has had nine justices for a century and a half.
Mr Pence pressed her twice on the question, but she rather spoke about Mr Trump’s current judicial nominee, Amy Barrett.
The Vice President parried a question on how the Trump administration would provide medical insurance for sick Americans.
He also ducked when the moderator asked whether he would want his home state, Indiana, to ban abortion.