At the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday night, Senator Kamala Harris of California wasted no time in prosecuting the case against the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” she said in her opening remarks on Wednesday.
Ms. Harris, in her debate debut as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s running mate, accused President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of hiding the truth of the pandemic from the American people.
“They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you,” she said. “They knew and they covered it up.”
Ms. Harris said a Biden administration would put in place a “national strategy” for contact tracing and coronavirus testing, which she said would be free for all Americans. Mr. Trump, she said, does not deserve any more chances to solve the problem.
“This administration has forfeited their right to re-election,” she said.
Mr. Pence, for his part, sought to highlight China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic, saying, “First and foremost, China is to blame for the coronavirus, and President Trump is not happy about it.”
As he has before, Mr. Pence praised Mr. Trump’s decision early in the pandemic to suspend travel from China, though he incorrectly characterized it as a ban on “all” travel from China. The virus ended up reaching the United States primarily through Europe.
The coronavirus hung over Wednesday’s debate as it has hung over all of American life for months. There was no handshake. The candidates were seated 12 feet apart. Two plexiglass dividers stood between them, providing an illusion of protection that scientists said would not actually do anything against an airborne virus.
After Mr. Trump was hospitalized for the coronavirus, Ms. Harris’s team had been pushing for stronger safety measures, including the plexiglass, in case Mr. Pence was infected. (He has tested negative, but tests are not always accurate until several days after exposure.) Aides to Mr. Pence had criticized the plans, but after negotiations, his staff accepted the placement of the dividers.