Pence and Harris clash on coronavirus pandemic

US Vice-President Mike Pence and Democratic running mate Kamala Harris have clashed fiercely over the coronavirus pandemic in a TV debate.

Ms Harris accused President Donald Trump of “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country”.

Mr Pence said Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s pandemic plan was “plagiarism” of the current White House’s.

Mr Biden leads Mr Trump with 27 days to go to the vote.

In Wednesday night’s 90-minute debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Ms Harris was asked whether she would take an approved Covid-19 vaccine distributed ahead of the election.

The 55-year-old California senator said she would not take a vaccine touted by Mr Trump without the approval of medical professionals.

Pence – a mild mannered former Indiana governor known for his steadfast loyalty to Mr Trump – retorted: “The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration I think is unconscionable.

“And, senator, I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

The plexiglass barriers separating the two debaters seated 12ft (3.6m) apart was a vivid reminder of the pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.

The president – who is himself recovering from the virus – returned to the White House on Monday evening after three nights in hospital, with his opinion poll numbers drooping.

On Wednesday he declared that catching the disease was a “blessing from God” that exposed to him to experimental treatments he vowed would become free for all Americans.

The virus has meanwhile spread through the West Wing of the White House as well as infecting figures inside the president’s re-election campaign and senior Pentagon officials.

This was a relatively civil forum between two polished communicators compared to last week’s presidential debating brawl between Mr Trump and Mr Biden, which degenerated into insults and name-calling.

But there were heated exchanges on Wednesday, nevertheless.

On the question of racial justice, Mr Pence expressed shock at the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. But he added: “There is no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed.”

He pointed to one of his guests in the auditorium, Flora Westbrooks, a black woman whose hair studio was destroyed during unrest in Minneapolis.

“This presumption that you hear consistently from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” the vice-president added, “that America is systemically racist that, as Joe Biden has said, law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities, is a great insult.”

Ms Harris – who was making history by becoming the first black woman to stand on a vice-presidential debate stage – said: “Last week the president of the United States took a debate stage in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacists.

“And it wasn’t like he didn’t have a chance. He didn’t do it and then he doubled down and then he said when pressed, ‘Stand back, stand by.’

“And this is part of a pattern of Donald Trump’s.”

“Not true, not true,” said Mr Pence, arguing that when Ms Harris was prosecutor in San Francisco African Americans were more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offences than whites or Latinos. (Courtesy BBC)

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