Pence, Harris Address COVID, Health Care, Abortion
October 8, 2020 – In a debate dominated by the escalating COVID-19 crisis, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris clashed Wednesday night over a host of health issues, including management by the administration of the virus epidemic, the fate of Obamacare and the right to abortion.
From the outset, the coronavirus crisis was at the center of concerns during the only vice-presidential debate, held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Plexiglass shields separated Pence and Harris, who sat more than 12 feet apart – a safeguard requested by the senator and initially opposed (but later accepted) by the vice president. Candidates did not wear masks, but members of the public were required to do so.
The precautions were cruel reminders of how the coronavirus ravaged the country – killing more than 211,000 people, rocking the American economy, disrupting American life and reshaping the presidential campaign.
Overall, the debate has been more civil than the savage exchanges that marred last week’s presidential debate, with President Donald Trump frequently interrupting and harassing Biden and even arguing with Fox News moderator Chris Wallace.
Although none of the vice presidential candidates broke new ground on political positions in their campaigns, the event marked the first real exchange of ideas on health policy.
Moderator Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA today, opened the debate by turning the discussion on the White House’s coronavirus response under Trump.
Pence, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, acknowledged that the United States is going through “a very difficult time,” but he defended and praised the president’s comprehensive response to the crisis.
He highlighted Trump’s decision to ban travel from China on Jan.31, federal efforts testing 150 million Americans for the virus and the White House’s “Operation Warp Speed” program to speed up a COVID-19 vaccine. . To date, the federal government has signed contracts with six drug companies – spending nearly $ 11 billion – and Pence said “tens of millions” of vaccines would be available by the end of the year. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. said that number would be more likely to be available early next year.
Harris called Trump’s response to the coronavirus “the biggest failure of any presidential administration in our country’s history.”
She accused the president of failing to publicly reveal that he knew as early as January 28 that the coronavirus posed a significant threat – which was revealed in taped interviews with veteran reporter Bob Woodward, published last month.
“They knew what was going on, and they didn’t tell you,” Harris said, later adding, “They knew and they covered it up.”
She criticized the president for consistently downplaying the public health risks from COVID-19, even after he and First Lady Melania Trump were infected with the virus last week. She also said the president set a bad example by questioning the recommendations of his own health advisers on wearing masks and social distancing.
Additionally, Harris ticked off a list of actions his running mate, former Vice President Joe Biden, offered to fight and control the virus. These initiatives include free COVID-19 tests and vaccinations for all Americans, the hiring of 100,000 contact tracers and provision of “sufficient” personal protective equipment (PPE), and increasing wages for workers in health. Biden also said this week he would impose a mask warrant on federal property.
Pence dismissed suggestions that Trump has sent mixed messages by not wearing masks or accepting social distancing, arguing that these decisions are ‘personal’ and that Americans should be able to make their own judgments .
Without providing details, he suggested that Biden “plagiarized” Trump’s coronavirus game plan by crafting his own plan – a veiled reference to Biden’s withdrawal from his first presidential election 3 decades ago due to a plagiarism scandal.
Pence also defended the White House rose garden ceremony last month for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s Supreme Court candidate, where Pence and other attendees sat side by side, most not wearing of masks. He said “a lot of speculation” had been sparked by the event, but noted it was outside and said “everyone” had been tested for COVID-19 beforehand.
This September 26 event, and a reception inside the White House that followed it, is now considered a “mass market” event that has led to a surge in coronavirus cases among some of the senior officials of the Trump administration and three Republican senators. An internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency said 34 people linked to the White House have been infected, according to ABC News.
Candidates also argued over questions about the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine and its effectiveness.
When Page asked Harris if she would take the vaccine once it was available, she said she would take advice from experts like Fauci. “If Dr Fauci, the doctors, tell us we should take it, I’ll be the first to take it,” she said. “But if Donald Trump tells us we should take it, I won’t take it.”
The comment drew a sharp rebuke from Pence, who accused the Democratic Senator from California of undermining public confidence in the vaccine.
“Stop playing politics with people’s lives,” the vice president said.
Obamacare, abortion and the Supreme Court
Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett and his efforts to get the Senate to approve it by November 3 sparked some of the evening’s most heated exchanges.
The President and the GOP-led Senate set to seat Barrett before the election. This could allow him to take part in the court ruling on a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which will be resumed on November 10, and weigh in any future votes involving Roe v Wade, the landmark ruling granting to a woman legal right to abortion.
Democrats objected to Senate action ahead of election day, noting that people are already voting.
Harris praised Biden’s efforts to help pass the 2010 law and criticized the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal it just as the country faces the biggest health crisis in 100 years.
She noted that Obamacare provides a range of health protections for Americans that would disappear if the law were overturned by the High Court. It forces insurers to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions, without charging them more. It also allows parents to keep their children on their health policies until the age of 26.
“If you have a pre-existing condition – heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer – they’re coming for you,” Harris said. “If you love someone with a pre-existing condition, they are coming for you. If you are under 26 on your parents’ coverage, they are coming for you. “
Pence called Obamacare a “disaster” and echoed Trump’s claims that he had a “better plan” to replace him, although the president has yet to release a comprehensive healthcare plan.
“President Trump and I have a plan to improve healthcare and protect pre-existing conditions for every American,” Pence said.
Trump’s candidate for the Supreme Court also raised the possibility that the High Court could overturn Roe against Wade.
Pence declined to say if he would like to see the abortion ban, but said he was anti-abortion, “and I don’t apologize.”
Harris said, “I will always support a woman’s right to make her own decision.”
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