Last night Kamala Harris and Mike Pence faced off in the only Vice Presidential debate of the election season. It was more civil than last week’s presidential debate with both parties making their case for the White House. The COVID-19 pandemic, trade and foreign policy, the economy, climate change, race relations, police reform, and the Supreme Court were topics covered by moderator Susan Page during the 90-minute debate.
Mike Pence frequently went past his allotted 2 minutes, often spouting catchphrases and repeating Trump’s false claims. He rarely answered Susan Page’s questions adequately, if at all. At times, he was very “Trump-Like” in his approach, appearing condescending towards both Kamala Harris and moderator Susan Page. Kamala Harris, who made history as the first Black Woman to participate in a debate, walked a delicate balance last night. She presented a calm and collected demeanor, aware of how she would be judged as a Black Woman but showed moments of her quick wit when firing back at Mike Pence when he attempted to speak past his time or interrupt her. Her facial expressions were often speaking louder than her words.
On the Coronavirus Response and Pandemic
With the President and multiple members of his administration testing positive for the coronavirus just days ago, the COVID-19 crisis was a top issue in last night’s debate. Mike Pence touted the White House response to the pandemic stating, “Donald Trump has put the health of America First.” Pence insisted that the Trump administration was “always truthful” about the coronavirus pandemic, a fact CNN fact checker, Daniel Dale, called a “whopper of a lie.” Pence also stated there would be a vaccine by year’s end, another fact disputed by fact-checkers.
“The reality is, we will have a vaccine, we believe, before the end of this year, and it will have the capacity to save countless American lives, and your continuous undermining of confidence in a vaccine is just unacceptable,”-Mike Pence
He also stated that “tens of millions of doses” would be available by the end of the year, a statement Harris quickly refuted, saying “If Dr. Fauci, the doctors, tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it,” Harris said. “But if Donald Trump tells us we should take it, I’m not going to take it.
While vaccines are in various testing stages, Dr. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly said vaccines would not be available until mid or end of 2021. Senator Kamala Harris was firm in her takedown of Pence on the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, often pointing to the loss of life, jobs, the effect on the economy, and the sacrifices made by Americans.
“You respect the American people when you tell them the truth. You respect the American people when you have the courage to be a leader, speaking of those things you may not want people to hear, but they need to hear so they can protect themselves. But this administration stood on information that if you had as a parent or a worker if you didn’t have enough money saved up, you’re standing in a food line because of the ineptitude,” Harris said. “They’ve had to sacrifice far too much because of the incompetence of this administration.”-Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris pleaded with the American people, “They are coming for you,” she repeatedly echoed as she insisted the Trump administration would cut healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions. Pence said that the Affordable Care act was a disaster, yet offered no comprehensive healthcare plan details. On the issue of abortion, Pence said, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support taxpayer funding of abortion all the way up to the moment of birth, late-term abortion, another claim that was proven false. While Biden and Harris are pro-choice and pro Roe V Wade, they also support repealing the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from going toward abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the woman’s life. Harris has been clear on her pro-choice stance and co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act.
On Climate Change
Pence stressed the White House’s commitment to the environment and said they would continue, “To listen to science,” but failed to answer the question of whether or not climate change was the reason for the increase in wildfires, floods, and hurricanes.
“There are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago, but many climate alarmists use hurricanes and fires to try and sell the Green New Deal…They want to abolish fossil fuels and ban fracking, which would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs all across the heartland.”-Mike Pence
Harris repeated that Joe Biden would not ban fracking and stressed that focusing on renewable and clean energy would create jobs and help grow the economy.
On the economy
Pence was relentless in attacking Harris and often attempting to portray her as a radical liberal in her approach to the economy, often citing her support of the “Green New Deal.” As the country continues to suffer job losses, high unemployment rates, and business closures, Pence suggested that the Trump Administrations’ tax cuts put “$2000 in the pockets of average American Families of Four” touting 2021 as “the biggest economic year in the history of this country.” He accused Harris and Biden of stifling the country’s economic growth with their proposed tax plan. In one of her weaker moments, Kamala Harris fought to get her point across, often interrupted by Pence, stating that Biden planned to repeal Trump tax cuts on day one and said Biden planned to raise taxes on those making over $400,000 a year.
Race Relations and Police Reform
Moderator Susan Page asked both candidates, In the case of Breonna Taylor, was justice done? Harris said, No, I don’t’ think so. She also mentioned George Floyd.
“Bad cops are bad for good cops. We need reform of policing in America and our criminal justice system. That’s why Joe and I will immediately ban chokeholds and carotid holds.… I was a part of those peaceful protests…And I believe strongly, that first of all, we are never going to condone violence, but we always must fight for the values we hold dear.”
In contrast, Pence offered his sympathies but sided with law enforcement, stating,
… But I trust our justice system, this presumption that you hear from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris that America is systemically racist, and as Joe Biden said, he believes that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities, it’s a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement….I trust our justice system, a grand jury that refused the evidence. And it really is remarkable that as a former prosecutor, you would assume that a grand jury looking at all the evidence got it wrong.”
Pence also attempted to sidestep questions of police reform by bringing up looters and property damage. He then took a swipe at Harris’s record while a prosecutor, one that has come into question repeatedly during the campaign stating, “When you were DA in San Francisco, African Americans were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than Whites and Hispanics. When you were attorney general of California, you increased the disproportionate incarceration of Blacks in California,” to which Kamala responded firmly, “I will not be lectured by the Vice President on our record of what we have done in terms of law enforcement and keeping our community safe and a commitment to reforming the criminal justice system of America. I will not sit by and be lectured by what it means to enforce the laws in the United States. I am the only one on this stage who has prosecuted cases.”
The Supreme Court nominee, the Election, and Transfer of Power
Trump recently nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and the Republicans are moving forward with her confirmation. Democrats opposes this, stating the American people should vote for the President’s office and wait until after the election to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. Pence suggested Harris and Biden would plan to “pack” the court if they won the election. “Your party is actually openly advocating adding seats to the Supreme Court, which has had nine seats for 150 years if you don’t get your way,” Pence said. “This is a classic case of if you can’t win by the rules, you are going to change the rules. Now, you have refused to answer the question. Joe Biden has refused to answer the question, so I think the American people would really like to know if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States, are you and Joe Biden, if somehow you win this election, going to pack the Supreme Court to get your way?”
Kamala Harris dodged the question and instead challenged Mike Pence by referencing Abraham Lincoln, who in 1864 waited to name a successor the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Roger Taney stating, “Honest Abe said it’s not the right thing to do,” Harris said about Lincoln waiting to name Taney’s successor. “The American people deserve to decide who will be the next president of the United States, and then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of our land.”
Harris then attacked Mike Pence and the Trump Administration on the lack of diversity in the nominees to federal courts. “Do you know that of the 50 people who President Trump nominated to the courts for lifetime appointments, not one is Black?” Harris said. “This is what they’ve been doing. You want to talk about packing the courts, let’s have that discussion.”
Mike Pence repeated false claims about mail-in ballots creating massive fraud cases and, like Trump, refused to say if there would be a peaceful transfer of power if they lost the election. Harris cited support from various Republicans and repeated Biden’s stance to vote, no matter what.
Each candidate had moments of strength and moments where they missed opportunities to state their positions or highlight their records. Overall, both conveyed the message of their respective Presidential candidates. This was the first and only Vice Presidential debate, but voters have another opportunity to see the presidential candidates spar in the next debate scheduled for October 15. In light of Trump’s latest developments and his coronavirus diagnosis, it remains to be seen if, when, and how the next debate will take place.
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and reporter living in Chicago. Find her on social media @daniesandersofficial.