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VP Candidates Spar over Health Care During Debate

Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) argued, civilly, about a number of healthcare issues during Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The two were seated 12 feet apart and behind plexiglass partitions, a reminder of the ongoing pandemic. But viewers didn’t need that reminder, as Ms. Harris began the debate by criticizing the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis.

The former California attorney general noted that 7.5 million people have already been infected by the novel coronavirus, with a death toll of 211,000 that is still climbing. She said that Mr. Trump had “forfeited his right to re-election.”

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

Mr. Pence, who heads the White House’s COVID-19 task force, pushed back, defending the administration’s handling of the pandemic. He said that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s plan looked very similar to what the Trump administration has done. But on its website, the fact-checking organization PolitiFact said the Biden plan also proposes many other priorities that the Trump administration has not pursued. The Biden campaign also follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for wearing masks and social distancing.

Mr. Pence also defended the White House’s decision to host a Rose Garden ceremony on Sept. 26 for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Several people who attended that outdoor event and related indoor events that day have since tested positive for COVID-19.

“President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health,” Mr. Pence said. “We’re about freedom, and respect the freedom of the American people.”

On the topic of vaccines, Mr. Pence called the fact that Ms. Harris has continued to “undermine” public confidence in a vaccine introduced during the Trump administration “unconscionable.” Ms. Harris replied that she would be the “first in line to take it, absolutely” if doctors and scientists gave it the greenlight. But if “Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not going to take it.”

Later in the evening, Ms. Harris had one of her strongest moments, defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Trump administration is supporting a lawsuit to strike down the ACA that would take away protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments shortly after the election on Nov. 3.

“If you have a pre-existing condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they’re coming for you,” she said. “If you love someone with a pre-existing condition, they’re coming for you. If you are under the age of 26 and on your parents’ coverage, they are coming for you.”

When asked how the Trump administration would protect people with pre-existing conditions if the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA, Mr. Pence avoided answering.

Meanwhile, earlier on Wednesday, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial calling for the current administration to be voted out of office. Titled “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum,” the editorial never mentions President Trump by name. It states that America’s leadership has “taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy” and that “the magnitude of this failure is astonishing.”

The editorial is signed by all 34 of its editors and is the first time in its 208-year history that the Journal has become involved in a presidential election. The editorial does not openly endorse Joe Biden.

Robert Calandra is an award-winning journalist, book author, and playwright. His work has appeared in national and regional magazines and newspapers.

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