Briefs: Pence, Harris spar over COVID-19 in vice presidential debate

The Associated Press

News for October 8, 2020

Pence, Harris spar over COVID-19 in vice presidential debate

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Trading barbs through plexiglass shields, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris turned the only vice presidential debate of 2020 into a dissection of the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with Harris labeling it "the greatest failure of any presidential administration."

Pence, who leads the president's coronavirus task force, acknowledged that "our nation's gone through a very challenging time this year," yet vigorously defended the administration's overall response to a pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.

The meeting, which was far more civil than last week's chaotic faceoff between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, unfolded against an outbreak of coronavirus now hitting the highest levels of the U.S. government. Trump spent three days at the hospital before returning to the White House on Monday, and more than a dozen White House and Pentagon officials are also infected, forcing even more into quarantine.

With less than four weeks before Election Day, the debate was one of the final opportunities for Trump and Pence to reset a contest that could be slipping away. They're hoping to move the campaign's focus away from the virus, but the president's infection — and his downplaying of the consequences — are making that challenging.

Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate again on Oct. 15, though the status of that meeting is unclear. The president has said he wants to attend, but Biden says it shouldn't move forward if Trump still has coronavirus.

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VP Debate Takeaways: Pandemic looms over a more civil fight

WASHINGTON (AP) — In normal times, vice presidential debates don't matter much. But in an election year as wild as 2020, everything is magnified. 

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday faced considerable pressure to boost coronavirus-stricken President Donald Trump's flagging reelection hopes as he trails in national and battleground state polls.

California Sen. Kamala Harris stepped on stage having to balance her role as Joe Biden's validator with her own historic presence as the first Black woman on a major party national ticket.

The candidates were separated by plexiglass out of concern for spread of the coronavirus from cases emanating from the White House.

Here are key early takeaways from the only vice presidential debate ahead of the Nov. 3 Election Day.

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AP FACT CHECK: Pence echoes Trump misfires in VP debate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Although more buttoned-up on the stage than his boss, Vice President Mike Pence nevertheless echoed many of President Donald Trump's falsehoods Wednesday in the one and only debate with Democratic rival Kamala Harris.

Pence muddied the reality on the pandemic, asserted Trump respects the science on climate change when actually the president mocks it, overstated the threat of voting fraud and misrepresented the Russia investigation in the Salt Lake City debate.

Harris got tangled in tax policy at one point and misleadingly suggested that Trump branded the coronavirus a hoax.

Altogether, the debate wasn't the madhouse matchup of Trump vs. Joe Biden last week. But there were plenty of distortions. A sampling:

ECONOMY

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Trump hails experimental treatment for his virus recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump credited an experimental drug treatment with helping his recovery from COVID-19 and suggested his diagnosis could be a "blessing in disguise" in the nation's battle against the pandemic. But there is no way for the president or his doctors to know whether the drug had any effect.

In a new White House video posted Wednesday evening, Trump said his illness had shed light on an experimental antibody cocktail that he tied to his improved condition. Seemingly sensitive to the fact that his treatment course has been far more comprehensive than the care received by average Americans, he promised to swiftly get the drug approved for broader use — and distribute it for free — even though he does not have the power to order that himself.

"I want everybody to be given the same treatment as your president, because I feel great," Trump said in a video from the Rose Garden. "I feel, like, perfect."

Still, questions continue to swirl about the trajectory of Trump's recovery and when he might be able to return to normal activities, including campaigning, less than four weeks before Election Day. The video marked Trump's first appearance before a camera — albeit a White House-operated one —in nearly two days. The White House has released only limited details about his condition and treatment, leading to questions about what lies ahead for Trump.

Trump received an experimental antiviral cocktail made by Regeneron through a "compassionate use" exemption, a recognition of the above-and-beyond standard of care he receives as president. The safety and effectiveness of the drug have not yet been proven. And there is no way for the president or his doctors to know that the drug had any effect. Most people recover from COVID-19.

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'Catastrophically short of doctors': Virus wallops Ukraine

STEBNYK, Ukraine (AP) — Coronavirus infections in Ukraine began surging in late summer, and the ripples are now hitting towns like Stebnyk in the western part of the country, where Dr. Natalia Stetsik is watching the rising number of patients with alarm and anguish.

"It's incredibly difficult. We are catastrophically short of doctors," says Stetsik, the chief doctor at the only hospital in the town of 20,000 people. "It's very hard for a doctor to even see all the patients."

The hospital is supposed to accommodate 100 patients, but it's already stretched to the limit, treating 106 patients with COVID-19.

Early in the pandemic, Ukraine's ailing health care system struggled with the outbreak, and authorities introduced a tight lockdown in March to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

The number of cases slowed during the summer but began to rise again quickly, prompting the government at the end of August to close Ukraine's borders for a month. Despite that, the number of positive tests in the country reached a new peak of 4,661 a day in the first weekend of October. 

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Sri Lanka closes key state offices as virus outbreak surges

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Authorities in Sri Lanka closed key government offices and further expanded a curfew Thursday to contain a surging coronavirus outbreak.

The foreign ministry closed the consular affairs office for the week and suspended all services to prevent the public from congregating. The ministry said it would only accept queries and documentation assistance related to deaths of Sri Lankans overseas, strictly by appointment.

Other departments providing services related to revenue, immigration, pensions, vehicle license and registrations also closed for the week, and a state-sponsored exhibition was canceled.

The outbreak that surfaced this week has grown to 1,034 cases with more than 2,000 others asked to quarantine at home. 

It is centered around a garment factory in the Colombo suburbs where the first patient and many others worked. Police have widened the curfew in the suburbs where many of the patients live. Schools have closed, public gatherings were ordered halted and restrictions were imposed on public transport.

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Trump administration turns to immigration as vote nears

WASHINGTON (AP) — It had the ingredients of a President Donald Trump campaign speech: dangerous immigrants, attacks on Democrat-run cities, even a mention of "America First." 

But it was Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announcing a routine, and relatively minor, enforcement operation Wednesday at a Washington news conference.

"It's not about Republicans, it's not about Democrats, it's not about elections," Wolf insisted, twice, to reporters.

Yet it was the third time in a week the administration rolled out actions to appear tough on immigration, reviving an issue that was at the heart of Trump's successful 2016 campaign, but largely on the back burner in the current one. And it added to charges from Trump critics that DHS and other agencies have become overtly politicized under this president.

DHS, which was created to improve America's resistance to external threats following the Sept. 11 attacks, has been a tool of key Trump administration policies from the start — enforcing stricter immigration policies, building the border wall and, most notoriously, separating families apprehended trying to enter the United States.

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Busy 2020 hurricane season has Louisiana bracing a 6th time

MORGAN CITY, La. (AP) — For the sixth time in the Atlantic hurricane season, people in Louisiana are once more fleeing the state's barrier islands and sailing boats to safe harbor while emergency officials ramp up command centers and consider ordering evacuations.

The storm being watched Wednesday was Hurricane Delta, the 25th named storm of the Atlantic's unprecedented hurricane season. Forecasts placed most of Louisiana within Delta's path, with the latest National Hurricane Center estimating landfall in the state on Friday. 

The center's forecasters warned of winds that could gust well above 100 mph (160 kph) and up to 11 feet (3.4 meters) of ocean water potentially rushing onshore when the storm's center hits land. 

"This season has been relentless," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, dusting off his now common refrain of 2020 - "Prepare for the worst. Pray for the best."

Delta strengthened back into a Category 2 hurricane early Thursday after a hurricane warning was issued for a stretch of the northern U.S. Gulf Coast. Some weakening is forecast once Delta approaches the northern Gulf Coast on Friday, when the National Hurricane Center predicted hurricane conditions would begin in parts of the area. The center said Delta is expected to become a major hurricane again, like it was days earlier before hitting the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday. 

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Before attack, a Pakistani teen sought better life in France

KOTLI QAZI, Pakistan (AP) — Ali Hassan was only 15 when he left Pakistan to be smuggled to Europe, following the path of his older brother and many other young men from his home country dreaming of a better life.

Nearly three years later, Hassan is today in a Paris jail after allegedly attacking and seriously wounding two people with a meat cleaver. Before the Sept. 25 attack, he proclaimed in a video he was seeking vengeance after the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo published caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Little is known about Hassan's time in France. There has been confusion over his age, but The Associated Press obtained his official identification documents in Pakistan that confirmed he is currently 18.

French authorities are investigating the Sept. 25 stabbings as an Islamic extremist attack. The stabbings echoed a January 2015 attack on the newspaper that killed 12 of its staffers by militants who claimed they were acting in the name of al-Qaida. 

So far, there has been no indication Hassan was connected to any terrorist group. Instead, the wrath of the teenager — far from home in a world vastly different from any he knew — may have roots in Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws.

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Fly on Pence's head generates buzz in VP debate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The vice presidential debate featured plexiglass barriers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They were no match for the night's most talked-about intruder — a fly that briefly buzzed around the stage before landing and staying on Mike Pence's head. 

The incident went unmentioned onstage, with the Republican vice president and Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris continuing to focus on the discussion of systemic racism in the justice system. 

But as the insect took up residence on Pence's white hair, the social media firestorm was immediate — and intense. It easily created more, well, buzz than nearly anything else that occurred. 

"That's not on your TV. It's on his head," tweeted MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "The fly knows," tweeted author Stephen King. Others joked about the creature perhaps getting stuck in hair spray — or possibly now being a prime candidate for coronavirus testing. 

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden immediately got in on the act, tweeting a photo of himself clutching an orange flyswatter under the heading "Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly." Moments later, he tweeted again, this time highlighting "Flywillvote.com," which took users to a website set up for his campaign to help supporters make plans to vote. 

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