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Pence, Harris invoke Arizona’s Kayla Mueller during vice presidential debate

PHOENIX — Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic opponent Kamala Harris invoked Kayla Mueller, the Arizona aid worker who was killed by Islamic State militants in 2015, during Wednesday’s debate in Salt Lake City.

Pence responded to a question regarding the global role of American leadership by using Mueller’s death as a criticism of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden when he served as vice president to Barack Obama.

Pence said Biden and the Obama administration weren’t decisive enough in trying to save Mueller, who was killed after spending 18 months in ISIS captivity following her kidnapping in Turkey.

Pence argued the Obama administration “hesitated for a month” on a plan to rescue Mueller.

“When Joe Biden was vice president, we had an opportunity to save Kayla Mueller,” Pence said. “It breaks my heart to reflect on it.”

Mueller’s parents, Carl and Marsha Mueller of Prescott, were guests of Pence’s at the debate.

The Muellers previously expressed their support for President Donald Trump and the administration during an appearance at the Republican National Convention in August.

In February, the Muellers were on hand when Trump devoted a portion of his State of the Union address to tell Kayla’s story.

Kayla was working for a non-governmental organization in Turkey that supported Syrian refugees before she was taken hostage.

“Her family says, with a heart that broke the heart of every American, that if President Donald Trump had been president, Kayla would be alive today,” Pence said.

El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, Islamic State militants from Britain, were brought to the United States on Wednesday morning to face charges in a gruesome campaign of torture, beheadings and other acts of violence against four Americans, including Mueller, and others captured and held hostage in Syria.

Harris offered her condolences to the Muellers.

“To the Mueller family, I know about your daughter’s case and I am so sorry. I am so sorry,” Harris said. “What happened was awful and it never should have happened. And I know Joe feels the same way.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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