U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris faced off in their first and only debate of the election season on Wednesday (October 7).
Separated by plexiglass shields, the candidates clashed primarily over the coronavirus outbreak which has infected millions of Americans, now including President Trump himself and a growing cluster of his aides and allies.
Pence was grilled about the White House event last month announcing Trump's latest Supreme Court nomination, where masks were mostly absent and a number of attendees have now tested positive for COVID-19.
He pointed to the event being held outdoors and claimed it was advised by scientists, stating that it was up to Americans to make choices in the best interest of their own health.
"We're about freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people."
But Harris fired right back, noting that the Trump administration has played down the threat of the pandemic since it began.
"You respect the American people when you tell them the truth."
And when asked about a potential vaccine, Harris said she would not trust Trump, who has previously promoted scientifically unproven treatments.
"If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I'm not taking it."
Pence quickly retorted, accusing Harris of undermining public confidence.
"So the fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration, I think is is unconscionable. And, Senator, I just ask you. Stop playing politics with people's lives.
The evening carried extra weight given the presidential candidates' age.
Either Trump, who is 74, or Biden, who is 77, would be the oldest president in U.S. history, an issue highlighted by Trump's recent COVID-19 diagnosis.
Both Pence and Harris are widely seen as future presidential candidates, whatever the outcome of November's contest.