Oct 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Harris calls Trump's COVID response the greatest presidential failure in U.S. history

Sen. Kamala Harris opened the vice presidential debate on Wednesday by condemning the White House's response to the coronavirus pandemic as "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country."

Why it matters: The pandemic is the single most dominant focus of the debate and the election, especially now that President Trump himself has contracted COVID-19. Harris used the moment to hammer Vice President Pence for heading a government response that has seen over 210,000 Americans die from the virus.

What she's saying: Harris said Pence and Trump knew about the lethality of the virus and chose to downplay it. "Frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to re-election based on this," the California senator said.

  • "They knew and they covered it up. The president said it was a hoax. They minimized the seriousness of it."
  • "The president said you're on one side of his ledger if you wear a mask. You're on the other side of his ledger if you don't. And in spite of all of that, today they still don't have a plan."

The other side: Pence responded by attacking Biden and Harris for opposing President Trump's decision to curb travel from China at the start of the pandemic, and noting that Biden's plan for responding to the pandemic is similar in many ways to the Trump administration's.

  • "The reality is when you look at the Biden plan it reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way," Pence said.
  • "And quite frankly, when I look at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine, it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about."

Between the lines: Pence used his own historical frame to defend the administration's pandemic response, arguing that Trump's China travel restrictions allowed the White House to "stand up the greatest national mobilization since World War II" with regard to the production of testing, PPE and vaccine development.

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