Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Wednesday said the Donald Trump administration has “forfeited” the right to re-election because of its response to the coronavirus pandemic. During the first and only vice-presidential debate at the Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah, Harris accused the Trump administration of “covering up” the seriousness of the outbreak.

“They knew and they covered it up,” said Harris. “They minimised the seriousness of it. The president said ‘you’re on one side of the ledger if you wear a mask, you’re on the other side if you don’t’. They still don’t have a plan, well Joe Biden does.” Biden is the Democratic presidential nominee.

The United States has for months been and remains the country worst-hit by the coronavirus, with over 75 lakh cases and more than 2 lakh deaths.

Harris accused the White House of not taking action despite knowing the risks of Covid-19. “The president said it was a hoax,” she said. “They minimised the seriousness of it. The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”

Harris, when asked if she would take the vaccine shot, said she will be the first in line if experts like Dr Anthony Fauci say they should take it. “But if Donald Trump tells us we should take it? I’m not taking it,” she added.

US Vice President Mike Pence, on the other hand, tried to defend the administration’s response. “From the very first day Donald Trump has put the health of Americans first,” he said. “[Trump] did what no other president had ever done - suspended all travel from China, the second largest economy in the world.” He claimed that Trump’s decision saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Pence also accused Harris of undermining public confidence in a future coronavirus vaccine through her attacks on Donald Trump’s credibility. “The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine, if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration, I think is unconscionable,” he added.

Also read:

‘She had the Desi mom death stare’: Twitter reacts to debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence

‘Mr Vice-President, I’m speaking’: Kamala Harris to Mike Pence during US vice-presidential debate

On climate change

Harris and Pence engaged in a war of words over the government’s handling of climate change and wildfires.

Pence said he was proud of the administration’s record on the environment and conservation. “The climate is changing,” he said. “The issue is what’s the cause and what do we do about it? The air is historically clean.”

Pence said that while Trump will put America first, Biden will go back to the Paris Climate Accord and hurt the US economy with his focus on clean energy.

In response, Harris pointed out how California was burning, thd Gulf of Mexico was hit by raging hurricanes, and the midwest was flooded. “This administration took the word science off the website,” Harris said. She was referring to Trump’s controversial remark when he had said “I don’t think science knows” during a briefing in California.

Watch: Thousands of protesters gathered in Bolivia’s largest city to demand action against wildfires

On China

Harris claimed that the Trump administration’s tit-for-tat tariffs on China had caused a manufacturing recession. “You lost that trade war,” she said. “You lost it.”

However, Pence took this opportunity to attack Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. “Lost the trade war with China?” he asked. “Joe Biden never fought it. Joe Biden’s been a cheerleader for communist China through, over the last several decades.”

In September, the World Trade Organization ruled that the United States government violated international trade rules by imposing tariffs on China in 2018, during a trade war between the two countries.

Also read:

Trump’s trade war with China benefits lobbyists, but is bleeding small US businesses dry

India may not have anything to gain in a trade standoff with China, experts warn

On Trump’s taxes

Harris assailed Trump for paying $750 a year in federal income taxes as president. “When I first heard about it, I literally said, ‘You mean $750,000?’ And it was like, ‘No, $750.’”

Last month, in an investigative article headlined “Long-concealed records show Trump’s chronic losses and years of tax avoidance”, The New York Times investigated the president’s tax return data for 18 years, and said that Trump did not pay taxes for 11 of those years.

Trump’s tax returns have been a talking point ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in November. They were also issues of contention during his 2016 election run as well as during his presidency. While US presidents do not have to release details of their personal finances according to the law, all presidents except for Trump have done so since Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

On foreign policy

Harris said the president had “betrayed our friends and embraced dictators around the world”. She claimed that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election. She also said that Trump’s unilateral approach to foreign policy coupled with isolationism led to US pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and thus made the country less safe.

Pence countered it, saying that Trump had ordered operations that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. He added that the hesitation on behalf of the Barack Obama administration was to be blamed for the death of humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller, who was killed by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.