US Election 2020: Kamala-Pence debate opens with clash over Trump administration’s COVID-19 response

US Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris went face-to-face on the debate stage on Wednesday night, with the latter blasting US’ response to COVID-19 as the biggest failure in presidential history.

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said in opening remarks at the debate.

“President and vice president were informed of the pandemic on January 28, and they did not act. They tried to cover it up, President called it a hoax,” she said.

In response, Pence said: “Our nation has gone through a very challenging time this year. But I want the American people to know that from the very first day President Donald Trump has put the health of America first.”

The two candidates entered the stage at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, waved to the masked and socially distanced crowd before nodding towards each other and taking their seats at desks 12 feet (3.6 meters apart. They greeted each other at a distance at the start of their debate on Wednesday, a visual reminder that the coronavirus pandemic remains the dominant issue in the U.S. presidential race.

With presidential ambitions of their own, both sat behind plexiglass shields for the uninterrupted 90-minute debate.

Pence, 61, who heads the government`s coronavirus task force, will be under pressure to show he can assume the country`s highest office if Republican President Donald Trump, 74, battling COVID-19, becomes too ill to serve.

The stakes were similarly high for Harris, 55, whose running mate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, 77, would be the oldest U.S. president if elected on Nov. 3.

It is being said that the Pence-Harris debate is unlikely to match the chaos of the first debate last week between Trump and Biden when Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and the two traded insults. Pence, more even-tempered than Trump, and Harris, a former prosecutor known for sharp questioning during Senate hearings, are seen as polished communicators.

US Election 2020: Kamala-Pence debate opens with clash over Trump administration's COVID-19 response