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‘Greatest failure of any administration’: Harris attacks Pence over COVID crisis
‘Greatest failure of any administration’: Harris attacks Pence over COVID crisis avatar

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Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris clashed on the coronavirus crisis, the economy and race relations in their only vice presidential debate in the US election campaign.

Separated by plexiglass barriers, Mr Pence and Ms Harris began by sparring over the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus, a point that highlighted the parties' sharply conflicting visions for a nation in crisis.

"The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," Ms Harris said as Pence, who leads the president's coronavirus task force, shook his head.

Mr Pence acknowledged that "our nation's gone through a very challenging time this year".

"I want the American people to know, from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first," Mr Pence said, promising millions of doses of a yet-to-be-announced treatment before the end of the year.

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Speaking directly to the camera, as Mr Biden did in his chaotic first debate with President Donald Trump, Ms Harris said of the government: "They knew what was happening, and they didn't tell you."

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Harris: Doctors not Trump should endorse vaccines

In response, Mr Pence commended Mr Trump's decision to shut off travel from China, saying the decision "bought us invaluable time" to coordinate the country's response to the pandemic, although Mr Trump's move only cut off some travel from China, and tens of thousands of people were still allowed to pour into the country.

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More than 210,000 Americans have died during the pandemic. Mr Trump is recovering at the White House from his own infection.

On the economy, Mr Pence said Donald Trump "cut taxes across the board" when he became president, while Joe Biden will "raise taxes" on his first day in the Oval Office.

He claimed the Democrat will "bury our economy under a $2trn green new deal" and "wants to go back to the economic surrender to China".

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Harris and Pence go head to head on the environment

Kamala Harris said the debate on this matter should be based on "facts", telling Mr Pence that Mr Biden has been "very clear" that he will not raise taxes on anyone earning under $400,000.

She claimed Mr Trump "rode the coattails" of the economic boom seen under Barack Obama.

On race relations Ms Harris said she does not believe justice has been done over the death of black woman Breonna Taylor.

Ms Taylor was shot multiple times in March after being roused from sleep by police at her door conducting a drug raid. A grand jury did not charge any officers for their role in Ms Taylor's death.

Addressing criminal justice reform, Ms Harris said a Joe Biden administration would ban chokeholds and require a national registry for police officers who broke the law. She said George Floyd, whose death in police custody sparked Black Lives Matter protests around the world, would be alive if such a ban existed.

Image: The event was the only vice presidential debate before next month's election

Asked if justice was done in the Taylor case, Mr Pence said Ms Taylor's family "has our sympathies, but I trust our justice system, a grand jury that reviews the evidence".

The pair also clashed on Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump's pick for the vacant seat on the US Supreme Court.

Assuming she is confirmed as filling the vacancy on the bench created by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, she will tilt its political balance to the right – as one of six conservative justices versus three liberal.

Mr Pence says Ms Barrett is a "brilliant woman" who will bring a lifetime of experience and "a sizable American family" to the nation's highest court.

Mr Pence and Ms Harris were asked how their respective states of Indiana and California should handle abortion if the Supreme Court were to overturn the historic Roe v Wade decision – the lawsuit that resulted in the 1973 case that established a woman's right to an abortion.

The vice president, a former Indiana governor and abortion opponent, warned against attacks on Ms Barrett's Roman Catholic faith and mentioned her large family of seven children.

Mr Pence says he would not presume to say how Ms Barrett would vote on Roe. But as a candidate in 2016, Mr Pence often told conservative crowds President Trump would appoint justices who would send Roe to the "dustbin of history".

Ms Harris said it was "insulting" to suggest she and Mr Biden would attack anyone for their faith.

She noted Mr Biden is Catholic, and she criticised Republicans for rushing to confirm Barrett.

She added she would "always fight for a woman's right to make a decision about her own body".

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