A camera operator is surrounded by Plexiglas panels to protect against COVID-19 as preparations take place for the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Anyone looking for Trump-style fireworks from tonight’s vice-presidential debate is likely to be disappointed. But it will still likely be one of the most watched presidential undercard debates in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Julio Cortez

‘Law and order’ vs. COVID-19 chaos: Pence, Harris meet in Utah in VP undercard debate

Sen. Kamala Harris wasted no time from the start of the 90-minute debate in Utah

Sen. Kamala Harris took the fight to Vice-President Mike Pence right out of the gate Wednesday, savaging the Trump administration’s “incompetence” and “ineptitude” in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris wasted no time from the start of the 90-minute debate in Utah, taking full advantage of the fact that the head of the much-maligned White House task force was sitting across from her.

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” she said.

A laundry list of grim statistics followed: more than 210,000 dead, more than 7 million cases, one in five businesses shuttered and more than 30 million unemployment claims.

And she made note of Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward’s tape-recorded revelations that Trump knew in February how serious the crisis could be, but kept it to himself.

“They knew what was happening, and they didn’t tell you,” she said into the camera. “They knew, and they covered it up.”

Pence, confronted with a question from moderator Susan Page that noted the U.S. death toll is more than twice that of Canada, countered with a familiar message.

In his trademark baritone, he credited Trump with buying precious time by restricting travel from China back in January ⏤ a move Joe Biden opposed, he noted ⏤ and praised Americans for the sacrifices they have made over the course of the crisis.

He insisted Trump kept the potential scope of the pandemic out of the public eye to avoid inciting panic.

“From the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of Americans first,” he said, Harris gently shaking her head, a smirk on her face.

Asked to lay out the Biden plan for dealing with the outbreak should he take office next year, Harris described a national contact-tracing strategy and a plan to fast-track vaccines, but stopped short of mentioning a mask mandate or further lockdowns.

Pence accused the Democrats of lifting the Republican plan.

“It looks a little bit like plagiarism,” Pence said, “which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about” ⏤ a reference to a controversy that effectively ended Biden’s presidential ambitions in 1987.

Pence and Harris debated at a distance of nearly four metres and through two layers of clear Plexiglas, a visible reminder of the threat of COVID-19.

Throughout, Pence did his best to defend Trump and radiate common sense as a counterpoint to the daily chaos of the president, who called catching the virus a “blessing from God” in a video earlier Wednesday.

But he landed his share of blows, at times by exceeding his allotted share of time.

He cited the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as one of the administration’s singular victories, noting Harris was one of only 10 senators who opposed the trade deal in the Senate.

“It was a huge win for American auto workers. It was a huge win for American farmers, especially dairy in the upper Midwest,” Pence said.

“You said it didn’t go far enough on climate change. You put your radical environmental agenda ahead of American auto workers and ahead of American jobs.”

He accused Harris of supporting the Green New Deal, the controversial climate change plan of progressive standard-bearers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, and insisted over the protests of his opponent that Joe Biden is bent on banning fracking ⏤ a major issue in blue-collar battlegrounds like Pennsylvania.

Both candidates did their share of dodging questions, too.

Harris refused to be pinned down on whether a Biden administration would “pack” the Supreme Court by adding seats for liberal judges, while Pence nimbly danced past several questions, including one about why the White House hasn’t been following its own recommendations for avoiding the virus.

Pence went into Wednesday’s debate facing slightly lower expectations, given Harris is a former prosecutor and California attorney general with a slicing, procedural style.

But with polls suggesting a slide in support for Trump since last week’s insult-laden confrontation with Biden, the stakes were higher for the vice-president.

Pence’s special guests included Carl and Marsha Mueller, whose daughter Kayla was killed in Syria in 2015 ⏤ a curtain call of sorts after their gut-wrenching speech in August during the Republican National Convention.

On Wednesday, which happened to be the 19th anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom, two members of the Islamic State militant group were indicted and returned to the U.S. on charges they helped abduct, torture and murder four American hostages from 2012 to 2015, including Kayla Mueller.

Pence related the story of the family’s efforts to work with the Obama-Biden administration to rescue Mueller, describing it as a mishandled, delayed effort that missed its chance by just two days.

“Her family says, with a heart that broke the heart of every American, that if President Donald Trump had been president, they believe Kayla would be alive today,” said Pence.

Harris could only acknowledge the tragedy.

“I know about your daughter’s case, and I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said to the couple off-camera.

“What happened to her is awful. And it should have never happened. And I know Joe feels the same way. And I know that President Obama feels the same way.”

She pivoted to Trump’s record of denigrating soldiers and veterans, a charge that Pence took pains to denounce.

“President Donald Trump not only respects but reveres all of those who serve in our armed forces, and any suggestion otherwise, it’s ridiculous.”

Voters on both sides of the partisan divide are paying more attention to the running mates than they have in the past, not least because of the age and health of the presidential candidates themselves.

Biden is 77, and the Trump campaign has done its best to depict him as a frail old man with neither the stamina nor the smarts to be commander-in-chief.

The 74-year-old Trump, who tested positive Friday for COVID-19, has been trying mightily ever since to depict himself as a president at the peak of his power.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Donald TrumpJoe BidenU.S. election

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Scott Stevens, left, with Robert Askeland at Rich’s Saw Sales. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Rich’s Saw Sales: Multi-faceted store specializing in light industrial, home and garden

As a part of small business week, the Express is featuring local Vanderhoof businesses

(Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Vanderhoof Department Store: 28 years of exceptional and personal retail experience

As a part of small business week, the Express is featuring local Vanderhoof businesses

Richard Wruth, owner of California Dreamin’. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
California Dreamin’: One-stop-shop for all your clothing needs

As a part of small business week, the Express is featuring local Vanderhoof businesses

Pictured- Mayson Williams, Michael Williams, Josie Williams, Tyreed Schumann, Alison Eggleton, Abby Doiron, Jason Schumann, Charity Schumann, Annabelle Lyons, Carlina and Daniel Lyons. (Submitted photo)
Daniel Lyons Law Corp: Your local, community legal counsel

As a part of small business week, the Express is featuring local Vanderhoof businesses

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

The Anonymous YVR is an Instagram page that reviews restaurants and other establishments around B.C. based on how well they adhere to COVID-19 rules. (Instagram)
Anonymous Instagram page reviews COVID-19 safety measures at B.C. businesses

There are a number of public health orders various types of establishments must follow to slow virus’s spread

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
B.C. records first COVID-19 outbreak at school, six weeks after students return to class

Three cases of the virus have been identified at École de L’Anse-au-sable

Most Read