Separated from her rival by plexiglass barriers, Harris called the response — led by Pence as the head of the coronavirus task force — as “the greatest failure of any administration in the history of the country.”
Pence, however, took issue when Harris said that she would not take a vaccine if it is Trump who recommends it.
“I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives,” he said. “The reality is that we will have a vaccine, we believe, before the end of the year and it will have the capacity to save countless American lives.”
But Pence also had to defend what has been happening at the White House in the past week, as dozens of White House staffers have tested positive for the virus along with President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. Moderator Susan Page asked him why social distancing was not enforced at a Rose Garden “super spreader” event where Amy Coney Barrett was introduced as the president’s Supreme Court nominee.
He said that many people at the event were tested and it was an “outdoor event where all of our scientists regularly routinely advise.”
“The difference here is, President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health,” he said.
There were interruptions, although not nearly to the extent that Trump did to Joe Biden last week.
At one point, as Pence tried to interrupt, Harris said, “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.” Later, she said the same thing, laughing a bit as Pence tried to cut in as she defended Biden’s tax plan.
In advance of the debate, Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates warned those in the socially distanced audience to keep on their masks or risk getting ejected from the auditorium. During the presidential debate last week, members of Donald Trump’s entourage took their seats and many were not wearing masks.
This time, there has been some concern over the status of Pence, given the outbreak at the White House that has infected 34 staffers and other contacts, according to ABC News. Pence has tested negative, including on Wednesday, and he was cleared to participate by the Centers for Disease Control. But there are still concerns that he was exposed to the virus at the Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, and that he should still be in isolation.
The commission went through a back and forth in recent days over the issue of the plexiglass divider between Pence and Harris, even though they are spaced more than 12 feet apart.
But some questioned why the debate was being done in person at all and not virtually.
“There is no reason to have an audience there, actually no reason to have anyone there,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner said on CNN.