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Harris on COVID Response: 'Failure.' Pence: That's 'Unconscionable'

Candidates spar early on in debate on the pandemic
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2020 8:56 PM CDT

(Newser) – The first topic of Wednesday night's vice presidential debate at the University of Utah was the coronavirus pandemic, and sparks started flying immediately between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence. Harris first criticized what she called "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," accusing Trump and Co. of downplaying the severity of the disease and still not having a real plan in place to address it. "They knew and they covered it up," she said. Pence, the leader of the White House coronavirus task force, responded by bringing up Trump's partial closure of the borders early in the pandemic and the administration's Operation Warp Speed, saying that the Biden-Harris plan doesn't differ much from the Trump plan. "It looks a little bit like plagiarism," he noted.

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Pence also called Harris' characterization that their plan hadn't worked a "disservice" and noted that he anticipated a vaccine coming down the pike quickly. When Harris was asked by moderator Susan Page if she'd take a vaccine when it became available, she responded that if public health professionals like Dr. Anthony Fauci gave it the green light, "I'll be the first in line." However, if Trump is the one who seems to be pushing it through, she won't get it. Pence called her response "unconscionable," chastising her for "[undermining] public confidence" in the vaccine. "Stop playing politics with people's lives," he said. As for their different approaches to the virus, Pence said: "President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health, [while] Joe Biden and Kamala Harris consistently talk about mandates. ... We're about ... respecting the freedom of the American people." Harris' retort, per Time: "You respect the American people when you tell them the truth." (Read more vice presidential debate stories.)

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