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Morry Gosh/PA Images Kamala Harris debating Mike Pence last night.
# us elex 2020
Harris labels Trump's Covid-19 response a historic failure as she spars with Pence in mostly civil debate
There were no knockout blows in a debate that was far less ill-tempered than last week’s presidential debate.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 8th 2020, 6:55 AM

DEMOCRATIC VICE PRESIDENTIAL candidate Kamala Harris went on the attack against Donald Trump last night, saying his actions during the Covid-19 crisis had forfeited the right to re-election as she debated current vice president Mike Pence.

This debate, which occurred in the early hours this morning Irish time, was a great deal more civil than last week’s fractious and ill-tempered clash between Trump and Joe Biden but was still pointed at times with frequent interruptions.

And, on other occasions, both parties – each separated by plexiglass as a safety precaution in front of a small audience at the University of Utah – would disregard the question they were asked and launched into prepared statements.

The figure which dominated the debate, who wasn’t even present, was President Trump with Harris going on the attack over his handling of the coronavirus and other matters while Pence staunchly defended the president.


The US President’s handling of the pandemic was thrown into even sharper light by the recent Covid-19 outbreak in the White House and his own diagnosis with the virus. 

Rather than treat it more seriously, however, the president has told Americans not to be afraid of the virus and last night called his infection a “blessing from God” in a video posted to Twitter.

The Trump administration’s Covid-19 response was Harris’ main point of attack in the debate, with over 210,000 confirmed deaths so far.

The Californian Senator said: “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.

And frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to reelection based on this.

Saying Trump treated front-line health personnel as “sacrificial workers,” Harris – pointing to Trump’s own statements to journalist Bob Woodward – accused the White House of not moving quickly despite knowing the risks of Covid-19.

“The president said it was a hoax. They minimised the seriousness of it,” Harris said.

election-2020-debate Julio Cortez / PA Images Julio Cortez / PA Images / PA Images

Pence acknowledged “our nation’s gone through a very challenging time this year”.

But he added: “I want the American people to know, from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first.” He also promised millions of doses of a yet-to-be-announced treatment before the end of the year.


The pair sparred on numerous occasions on issues such as healthcare, climate change and the Supreme Court.

Pence tried to portray Harris as a radical, saying that she – generally considered close to the Democratic establishment – was further to the left than socialist Bernie Sanders.

“More taxes, more regulation, banning fracking, abolishing fossil fuel, crushing American energy, economic surrender to China is a prescription for American decline,” Pence said, reciting a list Biden would be unlikely to describe as his platform.

Pence, questioned by moderator Susan Page of USA Today, acknowledged that “the climate is changing” but insisted that market solutions were the best way to reduce carbon emissions.

Even if they delved more into substance, the two candidates revealed little new about their policies and were notably evasive on issues such as abortion and the Supreme Court.

In one moment that went without commentary on stage but triggered an avalanche of social media commentary, a fly found its way onto Pence, spending a visibly long time on his white hair.

The Biden campaign quickly started selling fly-swatters online with the inscription, “Truth over flies.”

Even if this debate was a more polite affair than last week, the two candidates still scoffed at each other’s remarks.

At one point Harris, firmly but with a smile, reproached Pence, telling him: “Mr vice president, I’m speaking.”

They had one of their most intense clashes about racial justice after nationwide protests over police treatment of African-Americans.

Biden “believes that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities,” Pence said.

“It’s a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement. And I want everyone to know who puts on the uniform of law enforcement every day, President Trump and I stand with you,” he said.

Pence, criticising media coverage, insisted that Trump condemned white supremacy despite what some viewers interpreted at the president’s shout-out to the far-right Proud Boys group at his debate last week.

Harris pointed to a slew of previous statements by Trump including his notorious remarks that “fine people” were at a 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that turned violent.

2.55934813 Julio Cortez / PA Images Julio Cortez / PA Images / PA Images

“I will not sit here and be lectured by the vice president on what it means to enforce the laws of our country,” Harris said.

“I’m the only one on this stage who has personally prosecuted everything from child sexual assault to homicide.”

Harris also condemned the killings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota and spoke about the protests against racial injustice in policing that followed, which Trump has portrayed as “riots” as he calls for law-and-order.

“We are never going to condone violence but we must always fight for the values that we hold dear,” Harris said. “I’m a former career prosecutor. I know what I’m talking about. Bad cops are bad for good cops.”

Pence said his heart broke for Taylor’s family but he trusted the US justice system. He called it “remarkable” that Harris, as a former attorney general and prosecutor, would question the grand jury’s decision in the case not to charge an officer over the killing.


The candidates also clashed on taxes – specifically, Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns four years after repeatedly promising to do so. The New York Times reported last month the businessman 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. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been about covering up everything.”

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

Both presidential candidates praised their running mate in the aftermath of the debate.

While Biden said Harris has “made us all proud tonight”, Trump said that Pence had “WON BIG”.

The next debate between Trump and Biden is to take place in the early hours of Friday 16 October Irish time in Miami, Florida. 

With reporting from AFP

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