Tuesday night marked the first and only vice presidential debate of 2020, setting Vice President Mike Pence against Senator Kamala Harris. The University of Utah in Salt Lake City hosted the debate, moderated by Susan Page.
The candidates were given ten minutes to discuss nine pre-decided topics of debate, which were revealed throughout the night. The debate began by discussing the health of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. President Trump had been hospitalized that weekend at Walter Reed but checked out Monday evening.
The first topic of discussion was COVID-19, moderator Susan Page asked Senator Harris “The Coronavirus is not under control. What would a Biden administration do that the Trump administration wouldn’t do?” to which Harris contextualized her perceived failures of the Trump administration from the treatment of front-line workers “like sacrificial workers” to the 30 million filed unemployed, and critiques Trump for initially covering it up with claims that it was a “hoax.” She finished her argument by stating that Biden’s plan for COVID-19 is a new national strategy for contact tracing, testing, and administration of a free vaccine.
Pence was then told the death toll of COVID-19 is higher compared to any other wealthy nation such as its northern neighbor, Canada, to which Pence assured voters that “from the very first day, Trump has put the health of America first,” and commends the President’s suspension of travel to and from China, critiquing Biden condemning the move as “xenophobic and hysterical.” He stated that Trump’s COVID-19 strategy was the “greatest national mobilization since WWII,” saving lives with over 150 million tests and affirms his belief that a vaccine will be available before the end of the year. He concluded his argument with an accusation that Biden’s COVID-19 plan is plagiarism of Trump’s future plans.
Harris responds that Trump’s plan hasn’t worked and critiques the panic he had caused in the country, citing the toilet paper shortage earlier in the year, but Pence maintained his belief that the American people were responsible and commended the national recognition of health workers. Page’s next question disputed the ability of the American people to protect themselves from COVID-19 when the White House hasn’t, to which Pence reaffirmed his confidence in the American and critiqued Harris’ call for a “government takeover of healthcare” and the Democratic belief in a stronger federal government.
Afterward, Harris critiqued Pence for coddling the American people from the truth resulting in their sacrifice as a result of the “incompetence of the Trump administration,” but when asked by the moderator whether she would take a vaccine approved by the Trump administration she stated if Dr. Fauci approves of it, she would take it, but notably that she would not take a vaccine sent forward by Trump.
HEALTH OF THE PRESIDENT
Proceeding Harris’ condemnation of a Trump pushed vaccine, Susan Page stated how Trump and Biden would be 74 and 78 on the inauguration date respectively, and asked Pence if he had reached an agreement with Trump about safeguards regarding Presidential disability. Pence did not answer this question and instead condemned Harris for “undermining public confidence [in the vaccine]” and asked her to “stop playing politics with peoples’ lives,” moving on to critique the 2009 handling of Swine Flu under the Obama administration.
When asked the same question, Harris similarly avoided an outright answer and instead emphasized a similar upbringing shared by her and Biden.
The moderator moved on to ask if the candidates believed that the American people had a right to know about the President’s health. Pence commented that Trump’s care at Walter Reed was exceptional but stated he believed the American people deserve to be in-the-know for Trump’s health condition, and even added that he was moved by the bipartisan concern for Trump’s health.
Harris answered the question by claiming Biden had greater transparency than Trump regarding his health and critiqued Trump’s debt, inadequate payments in taxes, and put into question whether his decisions were rooted in self-interest. Pence responded to this by commending Trump as being a job creator and regurgitated Trump’s statement at the last Presidential debate that the President has paid “millions in taxes” and commended Trump’s cutting of taxes and fighting for free trade, shifting the moderator toward her next topic.
Susan Page contextualized that eleven million jobs had been lost and remained unreplaced, with the hardest hits impacting Latinos, blacks, and women, and asked Harris if raising taxes would put the recovery at risk. Harris emphasized the distinction between Trump and Biden’s economic viewpoints, notably claiming this to be their biggest difference. She affirmed Biden’s belief that “the health and strength of the American family is the core of the health of the economy,” critiquing Trump for his tax bills benefiting the 1%. She pointed out Trump’s failure to invest in infrastructure like he promised and commended Biden for his interests in clean energy investment, alongside funding of research, development, and education,
Page then asked Pence if Americans should be braced for a slow economic comeback, to which Pence stated Trump saved the US from the slowest economic recovery in history by cutting taxes across the board and attributed rising wages to Trump’s economic policies. He claimed “we spared no expense” in securing the 4 trillion dollars deposited into American families, and condemned the Green New Deal for its attacks on American energy, and critiqued the potential abolishment of fracking and usage of fossil fuels as an impairment to the economy.
Harris stated that Biden would not raise taxes for those who make less than 400k a year, but this point was argued by Pence who claimed Biden wished to repeal Trump tax cuts that help American families. Harris also stated Biden would not end fracking and that the Recovery Act following the Great Recession was responsible for Trump’s economic success while in office, critiquing Trump for taking credit for his inherited economy. She moved to commend Biden for the Affordable Care Act, and explicitly warned people with preexisting health conditions that “they[Trump and Pence] are coming for you,” alluding to the Trump administration taking away their coverage.
Pence fired back at Harris by labeling the Obama administration’s healthcare system a “disaster,” and affirms Trump would protect Americans with preexisting conditions as Trump claimed at the first Presidential debate. He, however, took his argument back toward Harris’ supposed fracking ban which will “crush American energy,” but the moderator uses this to move onto the next topic: climate change.
Susan Page contextualized by bringing up the hurricanes in the South and recording setting wildfires in the West. She asked Pence if he believed that man-made climate change has made wildfires “bigger, hotter, and more deadly,” and hurricanes “wetter, slower, and more damaging?”
Pence responded that American air and water was at its cleanest in years, and that American water is among the cleanest in the world, commending Trump for his signing of the Great American Outdoors Act, officially stating the climate is changing but moving on to critique Harris for wanting to put the US in the Paris Accord and states his belief that American jobs and energy would be crushed by the Green New Deal. He additionally stated that forest management must be worked on regarding West Coast wildfires, and claimed the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration stated “there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago.”
Page then stated Biden’s current non-support for the Green New Deal, and asked Senator Harris what the official Biden-Harris stance on the Green New Deal is. Harris again emphasized that Biden would not outlaw fracking and stated that the Biden administration would make 7 million more energy jobs than Trump, commending Biden for his acknowledgement of the West Coast burning and condemning Trump by stating “the current administration does not believe in science,” bolstering the environmental strengths of Biden by claiming zero emissions will be achieved by 2050 with a Biden administration.
The moderator forwarded the next question toward Pence, asking him if he believed climate change presented an existential threat. Pence mostly avoided the question, instead using the opportunity to criticize the Green New Deal as effectively being the same as the last one, and attacks Harris for denying the raising of taxes which would be a result of the proposed 2 trillion dollar plan. Harris countered that the Trump administration’s trade war with China had hampered American families more than the Green New Deal would and cited farmers going bankrupt as a result of the trade war.
Pence finally attacked Biden claiming he “has been a cheerleader for Communist China over the last several decades,” attributing the loss of 200,000 manufacturing jobs to him, to which Harris critiqued Pence’s vote against Biden when he “saved” America’s auto industry. The moderator took the China-centric arguments as a way to move toward foreign policy.
Page stated we “have no more complicated or consequential foreign relationship than the one with China.” She then asked Pence how he would describe the US relationship with China, whether as competitors, adversaries, enemies, or something else. Pence preceded his answer by arguing NAFTA cost thousands of American factories to close and critiqued Harris’ vote against USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) for not going far enough in preventing climate change. Pence claimed Harris put radical environmentalism ahead of American jobs, and finally presented his opinion on China by blaming them for the Coronavirus crisis, critiquing them for their lack of transparency regarding it, and commended Trump for his China travel ban. While not officially branding the Chinese government as an adversary or enemy, Pence conveyed the Trump administration’s stance that China was antagonistic at the very least.
When presented the same question, Harris critiqued Trump for his perpetuation of an unhealthy Chinese relationship, denouncing his dismantling of Obama administration policies, stating the Obama administration had even created an office for dealing with pandemics which was swiftly removed by Trump. She then blamed Trump’s trade war for the manufacturing recession, and states PEW’s report that more world leaders hold Xi Jinping, President of China, in higher respect than Donald Trump.
The moderator then recognized the change in the role of the United States in terms of global leadership, and asked the candidates how they would define American leadership in 2020. Harris answered first and quoted Biden, “American foreign policy might seem complicated but it’s really just relationships,” and condemned Trump for betraying our traditional allies and embracing dictators. She also remarked that tensions regarding Iran’s nuclear program can be blamed on Trump’s isolationism.
Pence countered the claim of Trump being isolationist by commending the moving of the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also praised Trump’s military action and firmness toward ISIS, particularly for bringing Kayla Mueller’s murderers to justice.
Harris sympathized with Kayla Mueller’s family but moved on to denounce Trump’s disrespect of the military with his reference to American soldiers as “suckers and losers,” and his stance on John McCain being that he was less of a hero for being a prisoner of war. She also brought up Trump’s inability to bring up Russian bounties on American soldiers to Putin, stating that Biden would hold Putin accountable for any threat to American security. Pence tried to argue that Trump respected the troops, but the moderator insisted on moving toward the next topic.
Susan Page moved toward discussing the Supreme Court, stating that Amy Coney Barrett’s induction toward the Supreme Court would cement it as primarily conservative. She then asked Mike Pence what his home state of Indiana would do in the event that Roe v Wade is overturned.
Before answering the question, however, Pence commended Trump for killing Soleimani and criticized Harris for opposing the assassination and brought up Biden’s weariness toward the raid on Osama Bin Laden. When he returned to the point of discussion, he claimed to share Trump’s enthusiasm for Amy Coney Barrett’s induction and implied Harris had opposed Christian politicians.
Harris, in response, affirms that she and Biden are people of faith, but supported Biden’s argument from the Presidential debate that Trump putting forth a Supreme Court justice during the election cycle is unfair, and criticized Trump for his attacks on the Affordable Care Act (bringing up how its removal would result in people under the age of 26 being kicked from their parents’ insurance).
Afterward, the moderator asked Pence how the Trump administration would protect Americans with preexisting conditions to have access to affordable insurance, but Pence utilized the moment to proclaim he is “proudly pro-life” and critiqued Democrats for pushing to increase funding to Planned Parenthood. He concluded his argument with a criticism of a proposal for additional seats to the Supreme Court if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, stating there had not been seats added to the Court in 151 years.
Harris responded to Pence’s history lesson with one of her own, explaining how Abraham Lincoln left an empty seat on the Supreme Court during the election cycle and refrained until reelection to nominate anyone, supporting Biden’s belief that Trump should’ve waited for the nomination. She then criticized Trump’s Court of Appeals nominees for not consisting of a single black person, which brought the moderator to the next topic.
Susan Page asked Senator Harris if she believed, in the case of Breonna Taylor, that justice was done. Harris stated her disbelief in justice for Taylor and cited George Floyd’s death as another example of the racial injustice across America, praising the American people for uniting to stand against it. She stated a number of Biden administration plans for police reform: a proposal for a national registry of police officers that break the law, the banning of chokeholds in usage by officers, the issuing of criminal justice reform, removal of private prisons & cash bail, the decriminalization of marijuana, and an expungement of criminal record for convicted marijuana users.
When presented the same question, Pence expressed sympathy for Breonna Taylor and clearly states that there was no excuse for George Floyd’s death, but condemned the rioting and looting which proceeded as just as problematic, and argues against Harris’ belief in systematic racism by calling it an insult to police. Notably, images of a fly landing on his head during this statement have spread across social media.
Harris struck back at Pence by criticizing his lack of prosecution history and critiqued Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists during the last debate, alongside the Muslim ban at the beginning of his term, his opinion on Charlottesville, and his statement of Mexicans as “rapists and murderers.”
Pence countered by noting the omission of Trump’s condemnation of the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, and even brought up Trump’s Jewish grandchildren as an example of how he “cherishes all American people.” He attacked Harris’ by critiquing the over-representation of convicted blacks over convicted whites in her prosecution history, but she defended herself with her requirement of her own agents to wear body cameras full-time and being the first to train her officers regarding implicit bias, bringing the discussion on racial injustice and relations to a close.
Susan Page’s final question revolved around Trump’s refusal to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power. She asked Senator Harris what the Biden administration would do if her ticket wins and Trump refuses to leave, but she had largely avoided acknowledging the idea of a non-peaceful transfer of power and instead focused on the idea that Biden had a wide range of support “among Democrats, Independents, and even Republicans from George Bush’s cabinet,” stating that she believed in the American people and she then strongly urged the audience to vote.
Pence, when presented the same question, simply ignored the idea of a non-peaceful transfer of power and stated his confidence that Trump will win the election, praising him for reviving the economy with tax cuts and fighting for free trade while supporting the military and standing with law enforcement. He, in fact, turns the question over to attack the Democrats for attempting to overturn Trump’s presidency, particularly criticizing the impeachment of Trump “over a phone call.”
The vice presidential debate on Tuesday night will be the only one, and was largely a civil discussion which avoided the name-calling and aggression between sides that occurred between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Though both candidates engaged in off-topic discussion and had neglected to answer a few questions, they avoided interrupting or speaking over each other. Notably, they backed several statements made by the Presidential nominees last week and provided more reasoning behind them than was given during the Presidential debate.
Alongside this, the vice presidential debate avoided the same controversy as the presidential debate last week, and there were no particularly sensational statements or remarks in the vein of last week, which was marked by captions of Joe Biden’s quote “Will you shut up, man?” becoming widespread across social media. Instead, the debate was remarkably civil and professional, allowing easier comprehension of Biden and Trump’s ideals for young voters.
Regardless of whether the debate switched anyone to one side or the other, the importance of voting is inarguable and all eligible individuals should register to vote before the Pennsylvanian deadline on October 19th.
The next Presidential debate will be Oct. 15 and will not be conducted in-person.
Photo from ABC News