Vice President Mike Pence was immediately put on the defensive at the vice presidential debate with Senator Kamala Harris on Wednesday evening, as he was asked to defend the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 210,000 Americans and infected over 7 million, including the president himself.
Pence defended President Trump's decision to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court at aon September 26, where there was no social distancing and limited mask-wearing. Several of the attendees of the event have since tested positive for COVID-19 in addition to the president and first lady Melania Trump, including multiple White House officials.
Pence said many of the people who attended the event "actually were tested for coronavirus," and added the ceremony was outdoors. However, the president also held an indoor reception, where very few people were photographed wearing masks.
He then pivoted, saying the Trump administration trusted Americans to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines on remaining safe during the pandemic, which includes avoiding large crowds and wearing a mask in public.
"President Trump and I have great confidence in the American people and their ability to take that information and put it into practice," Pence said. He argued that imposing a national mask mandate, as Joe Biden has suggested, would be federal overreach. "The difference here is President Trump trusts the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health."
Harris hit back by arguing that Mr. Trump had lied to the American public by repeatedly downplaying the coronavirus.
"You respect the American people by telling them the truth," Harris said.
Harris slammed the Trump administration's response to the pandemic, saying that the president "minimized the seriousness" of the virus from the beginning.
"The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," Harris argued.
Harris also responded to a question about whether she would take a coronavirus vaccine if it was made available before the election. she would not trust Mr. Trump's word on whether a vaccine is ready. However, Harris said at the debate that she would trust the word of public health professionals.
"If Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely," Harris said, referring to the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. "If Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I'm not taking it."
Pence said Harris' stance on a vaccine was "unconscionable," and said she should "stop playing politics with people's lives."