Buttigieg says White House is "still in denial about" COVID-19 pandemic as VP debate looms

Pete Buttigieg on trust, COVID and campaign
Pete Buttigieg on trust, COVID and campaign 07:02

The coronavirus pandemic will play a central role in Americans being able to "really see the difference" between the Biden-Harris campaign and the Trump White House, said former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as both campaigns make final preparations for the October 7 vice presidential debate.

Buttigieg, who was seen Monday in the lobby of a hotel where Senator Kamala Harris is preparing for her debate against Vice President Mike Pence, accused the White House of not wanting to "face reality" in the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Trump returned to the White House after three days at Walter Reed where he was treated for COVID-19. As virus-related fatalities in the U.S. soared above 210,000, Buttigieg said the White House "seems to still be in denial" about the pandemic. 

Kamala Harris will have to contrast that messaging by showing it knows "what it will actually take to confront this pandemic that's now killed more than 200,000 Americans," Buttigieg  said on "CBS This Morning" Tuesday.

While the former South Bend, Indiana mayor side-stepped a question on reports that he was acting as Pence in Harris' debate practice, he did warn the vice president is "a very effective debater." Vice President Pence served as Indiana governor from 2013 through President Trump's inauguration in 2017.

"I've seen him debating for governor and debating for vice president as well. He has an ability to deliver lines with a high degree of confidence, whether they're true or not," Buttigieg said. "But of course, saying something with a straight face doesn't make it true." 

He said it was up to Wednesday evening's moderator, USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page, to fact-check the vice president if he wanders from the truth so Harris could "focus on getting out the message about how this country's going to move forward." 

Doubts over the Trump administration's honesty and lack of transparency is leading to an erosion in trust among Americans that Buttigieg called "an incredibly dangerous thing." 

That lack of trust is the subject of Buttigieg's new book, "Trust: America's Best Chance," in which he argues that trust in each other and U.S. institutions is critical to getting through the tumultuous years he predicts lie ahead. 

He held up Americans' reactions to the coronavirus pandemic as an example of why trust is critical amid uncertain circumstances.

"Right now researchers are racing against the clock to develop a vaccine, and yet there is polling indicating as many as half of Americans would hesitate to get one," Buttigieg said. "It's just one example of how a concept that sounds very theoretical, like social trust, that's a life and death issue."