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In VP debate, Pence and Harris offer conflicting views of nation’s reality

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris

Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) participates in the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The vice presidential candidates only meet once to debate before the general election on November 3. Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump administration’s pandemic response: decisive action that saved lives, or the greatest failure of any presidential administration? During Wednesday’s vice presidential debate, Vice President Mike Pence and the Democratic challenger, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, offered drastically different takes — from behind plexiglass screens — on how the president has handled the COVID-19 crisis.

Pence touted problematic claims, such as that President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from China helped the nation respond to the coronavirus (PolitiFact rated a similar claim “False”) and that the country would have a vaccine in less than a year (the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a vaccine, yet to be approved, will not be widely available until next year).

Harris said the Trump administration misled the public about how serious the virus is, pointing to briefings Trump and Pence received in January. Trump told journalist Bob Woodward in a recorded interview that he purposely downplayed it.

Our partners at PolitiFact broke down a whole gamut of claims — on fracking, the economic recovery and the Supreme Court. The highlights regarding health care and coronavirus policies follow:

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Kamala Harris: “The president said [the coronavirus] was a hoax.”Rating: False

This often-repeated statement falsely attributed to Trump has its roots in a Feb. 28 rally in North Carolina. But it’s a mischaracterization of what he actually said, which was an attack on Democrats’ response to the virus.

Trump cast the Democrats’ criticism of his work as foisting a hoax on the public. “They tried the impeachment hoax,” he said. “That was not a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.”

Mike Pence: The Rose Garden event with Judge Amy Coney Barrett “was an outdoor event, which all of our scientists regularly and routinely advised.”Wrong

The event included an indoor component, during which Trump, Barrett and others posed for photos without masks. Public health officials do say outdoor activities are less risky — provided masks are worn — than indoor events, where it might be harder to keep people apart and there’s less ventilation. But attendees of the Sept. 26 White House event for the nomination of Barrett to the Supreme Court did not practice social distancing, and many did not wear masks throughout the event.

Pence: Trump “suspended all travel from China. … Joe Biden opposed that decision. He called it xenophobic and hysterical.”Misleading

There were exemptions in Trump’s travel restrictions on China. On Jan. 21, the CDC confirmed the first U.S. case of the