Harris rips Trump over virus as Pence hits Biden on taxes, court

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Senator Kamala Harris condemned the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic as the worst failure in U.S. government history, but evaded answers on the Democrats’ positions on the environment and the Supreme Court.

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” the California Democrat said of Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This administration has forfeited their right to re-election,” she said in the running mates’ only debate of the campaign.

Mike Pence and Kamala Harris during the U.S. vice presidential debate

Vice President Mike Pence endorsed the whole of President Donald Trump’s response to the virus. Since February, more than 7 million Americans have been infected, more than 212,000 have died and last week, the president himself contracted COVID-19.

“From the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first,” Pence said.

He later insisted that Harris explain Joe Biden’s plans to raise taxes and his position on the Green New Deal, a plan to fight climate change that Republicans say would be economically destructive. He also demanded to know whether she and Biden planned to “pack” the Supreme Court with additional justices, a question the Biden campaign has consistently refused to answer.

“More taxes, more regulation, banning fracking, abolishing fossil fuel, crushing American energy and economic surrender to China is a prescription for economic decline,” Pence said of Biden’s plans.

While the two candidates were largely cordial, there was friction over police and racial issues. After Pence called presumptions of systemic racism among police “a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement,” Harris, a former prosecutor, responded sharply.

“I will not sit here and be lectured by the vice president about what it means to enforce the laws of this country,” said Harris, the former district attorney of San Francisco and California attorney general. She noted Trump’s reluctance to directly condemn white supremacy in last week’s debate against Biden.

“America deserves better,” she said. “Joe Biden will be a president who brings our country together”

The matchup, in Salt Lake City, will be the only debate between Pence and the Democratic nominee to replace him. Pence and Harris sat about 12 feet apart with a pair of plexiglass partitions between them as an extra precaution against coronavirus infection following President Donald Trump’s diagnosis of COVID-19.

The vice presidential debate bore almost no resemblance to the chaotic matchup between Trump and Biden last week. Trump repeatedly interrupted his opponent, prompting Biden to twice call the president a “clown” and tell him to shut up.

But repeatedly, Harris — the first Black and Indian-American woman to be nominated to join a major party ticket — told Pence that “I’m speaking” when he interrupted her. Biden holds a large lead among women voters in public polling, one of Trump’s most serious vulnerabilities.

About an hour into the debate, moderator Susan Page of USA Today noted that Pence had spoken more than Harris, as she stopped him from taking time he wasn’t allotted under the debate rules.

After defending the administration’s response to the virus, Pence put Harris on the defensive with attacks on Biden’s tax and environment plans and the accusation that Biden would try to add justices to the Supreme Court.

“From day one, Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes,” Pence said. Harris interjected: “That’s not true.”

“Joe Biden will not raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year,” she said

Pence also charged that Biden supports the “Green New Deal,” which aims to wean the U.S. off fossil fuels, a plan that Harris has co-sponsored in the Senate. Biden seeks to “abolish fossil fuels and ban fracking,” he said.

“President Trump and I will keep America growing,” he said.

Page noted that Biden’s website calls the “Green New Deal” a “crucial framework” on his website and asked Harris to explain what the Biden-Harris administration’s stance would be on the plan. She didn’t directly answer, instead saying that Trump and Pence “don’t believe in science.”

“Joe’s plan is about saying we’re going to deal with it, but we’re also going to create jobs,” she said.

She also did not directly respond to Pence’s charge that Biden would seek to add justices to the Supreme Court. Some Democrats have advocated for such a strategy in response to Republican plans to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court before the election.

Voters, Pence said, “would like to know if you and Joe Biden are going to pack the Supreme Court if you don’t get your way in this nomination.”

Harris said “let’s talk about packing” and criticized Trump’s selections for the court without answering the question.

The debate was marked by a few curiosities. A pair of plexiglass partitions that extended just inches above the two politicians’ heads separated Harris and Pence, an extra precaution against coronavirus infection that Harris’s team sought over the Pence team’s objections.

And Pence was bothered by a fly that repeatedly landed on his face in the last half hour of the debate. After the debate, Biden tweeted a fundraising appeal accompanied by a picture of him holding a flyswatter.

“Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly,” he wrote.

Trump’s illness has changed the character of the race, effectively sidelining him in the closing weeks of the campaign as he fights the very disease whose spread has imperiled his presidency. Recent public opinion polls show him falling even further behind Biden, both nationally and in battleground states — with no sign of a sympathy vote for his illness.

Asked whether the White House should be more transparent about Trump’s health, Harris pivoted to criticize the president for withholding his tax returns from the public. She noted a New York Times report that Trump has hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due and said: “It would be really good to know who the president of the United States and the commander in chief owes money to.”

Pence said that Trump has released “stacks of financial disclosures” and his economic policies were more important.

Both Harris, 55, and Pence, 61, faced the challenge of persuading voters that if their septuagenarian bosses can’t finish their terms, they are prepared to step into the Oval Office.

Harris, a former prosecutor, came into the debate known for her debate skills. She dealt a blow to her now-running mate last year when, during a Democratic primary debate, she assailed Biden’s long-ago opposition to school busing.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me,” Harris memorably said at the time.

But she didn’t land any similar blows on Pence.

— With assistance from Jordan Fabian and Mark Niquette

Bloomberg News
Election 2020 Politics Elections Kamala Harris Mike Pence Donald Trump Joe Biden Tax planning Coronavirus Tax rates