Harris and Pence Face Off in Vice Presidential Debate

Jack Birle Staff Writer

On Wednesday Oct. 7, Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris participated in the first and only Vice Presidential Debate of the 2020 election at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, Susan Page, served as the moderator. At the beginning of the debate, Page repeated the rules in an attempt to avoid another chaotic discussion, as seen in the first presidential debate.

“The two campaigns [and] the Commission on Presidential Debates have agreed to the ground rules for tonight,” Page said. “I’m here to enforce them on behalf of the millions of Americans who are watching.”

The first topic of the debate was the pandemic. The topic was made more important by President Trump’s treatment for COVID-19.

Harris accused the Trump administration for downplaying the virus and not having a clear national strategy for the pandemic. She then proposed the Biden-Harris plan would be to provide more PPE, a strategy for contact tracing, a free vaccine and increased testing.

Pence responded by slamming Biden for calling Trump’s ban on travel from China earlier this year “xenophobic and hysterical.” He also countered the Biden-Harris coronavirus national strategy. 

“When I look at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine, umm, it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” Pence said.

Later in the topic, as Page attempted to bring in Pence for a response to what Harris had said, Harris cut off Pence to finish her point delivering one of her most quoted lines of the night.

“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” Harris said. “I’m speaking.”

Harris also provided clarity on her stance on a vaccine.

“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,” she said. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”

Both Pence and Harris dodged questions regarding whether or not they had succession plans with their running mates, considering Trump and Biden’s ages (Trump, 74 and Biden, 78).

During the economic section of the debate, Pence pushed Harris on the issue of taxes. Harris stated a Biden-Harris administration would not raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year, but Pence argued they would eliminate Trump’s tax cuts.

“It’d be important if you said the truth,” Pence said. “Joe Biden said twice in the debate last week that he’s going to repeal the Trump tax cuts. That was tax cuts that gave the average working family $2,000 in a tax break every single year.”

When asked directly by Pence if she and Biden would repeal the Trump tax cuts, Harris had no answer.

Harris then hammered Pence on eliminating the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and other key issues. 

“On the one hand you have Joe Biden, who was responsible with President Barack Obama for the Affordable Care Act, which brought health care to over 20 million Americans and protected people with pre-existing conditions,” Harris said. “On the other hand, you have Donald Trump who is in court right now trying to get rid of [the Affordable Care Act].”

Pence disagreed, saying another term of a Trump-Pence administration would revamp healthcare and protect pre-existing conditions. Pence also reaffirmed his claim that Biden wants to eliminate fossil fuels and fracking.

“Senator Harris, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” Pence said.

On the issue of climate change, Pence would not call climate change an existential threat, while Harris avoided answering whether Biden supported the Green New Deal.

On the issue of the Supreme Court, Pence pushed for Judge Amy Coney Barrett to be confirmed to the Supreme Court as soon as possible, and he pressed Harris on whether or not she and Biden would pack the court. Harris did not respond to Pence’s question. 

The Biden campaign has not officially released a stance on Supreme Court packing.

On the topic of racial justice, both Harris and Pence called for police reform, while Harris called also for measures that would get rid of private prisons and decriminalize marijuana.

Harris also attacked Trump’s comments on white supremacists and neo-Nazis, including comments made at the first Presidential Debate and in wake of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. 

“He, on the issue of Charlottesville, where people were peacefully protesting the need for racial justice, where a young woman was killed and on the other side there were neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches shouting racial epithets, anti semitic slurs,” Harris said. “And Donald Trump, when asked about it, said there were fine people on both sides.” 

Pence claimed Trump strongly condemns white supremacists and neo-nazis. 

“Senator Harris conveniently omitted, after the President made comments about people on either side of the debate over monuments, he condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and has done so repeatedly,” he said.

The 90-minute debate concluded with a discussion of the unity the U.S. still has despite political disagreements.

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns declared a victory. Public opinion polling on the debate tended to fall along party lines.