In a contentious debate Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris squared off Wednesday night. The debate included topics ranging from the pandemic, to transparency, to court-packing.
Harris opened the debate with aggressive criticism against the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, taking her attack on its coronavirus response directly to the head of the coronavirus task force.
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” said Harris
Harris highlighted the staggering death toll of the virus in the U.S. and slammed the White House for failing to act in the early days of the pandemic.
Pence defended the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis. He argued that a Biden administration would have fared no better under the same scenario.
“Our nation’s gone through a very challenging time this year, but I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of the American people first,” he said.
In response to Harris’ allegations that the Trump administration doesn’t have a plan for the pandemic and Biden does, Pence said that Biden’s plans are very similar to testing, tracing, and other efforts the Trump administration has worked on.
“When I look at their plan it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” said Pence.
“I’m not taking it”
Moderator Susan Page asked Harris whether she would take a vaccine that the Trump administration approved before the year is out. Multiple people have accused Harris and other Democrats of casting doubt on the effectiveness and reliability of a potential coronavirus vaccine. Polls show that faith in a vaccine may be dwindling.
Harris made clear that if a vaccine is vocally supported by medical professionals like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, she would be “first in the line to take it.”
“If Donald Trump tells us we should take it, I’m not taking it,” she countered.
“The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine .. is unconscionable,” said Pence in response.
Dodging questions about running mates’ ages
Page asked both Pence and Harris about concerns on the ages of Trump, 74, and Biden, 77.
Neither candidate provided a direct answer.
Pence used his time to talk about the handling of the 2009 swine flu pandemic that lasted about 19 months. Harris discussed her qualifications and similar values to Biden.
Debate over transparency
A discussion about economic policy turned to a debate over who is telling the truth to the American people.
Pence accused Harris of telling the American people that she would immediately raise their taxes upon assuming office. “That’s not what I said,” responded Harris, smiling while shaking her head.
What Harris said was that Biden “believes you measure the health and strength of America’s economy based on the health and the strength of the American worker and the American family. On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, who measures the strength of the economy based on how rich people are doing. Which is why he passed a tax bill benefiting the top 1% and the biggest corporations of America, leading to a two trillion dollar deficit that the American people are going to have to pay for. On day one, Joe Biden will repeal that tax bill. He’ll get rid of it.”
Their fundamental difference, apparently, was whether the Trump tax cuts actually helped middle-class Americans.
After Pence finished his point, Harris alluded to last week when the presidential debate became an unmanageable mess of interruptions from Trump while Biden was on several occasions just repeating “that’s not true” as Trump talked.
“We saw enough of it in last week’s debate, but I think this is supposed to be a debate based on fact and truth, and the truth and the fact is Joe Biden has been very clear. He will not raise taxes on anybody who makes less than $400,000 a year,” said Harris.
Echoes of the Trump-Biden debate
When Harris attacked Trump over damning reports about his attitude and actions toward the U.S. military, Pence refused to move on without completing his rebuttal — and forcing a rebuke from the moderator.
“Joe Biden would hold Russia to account,” Harris said after referencing reports that Russia offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. troops.
Page attempted to move on, but Pence insisted he needed to respond. When Page gave him 15 seconds, he replied, “I’ve got to have more than that.”
“The slanders against President Donald Trump regarding men and women of our armed forces are absurd,” said Pence.
Page cut in, but Pence kept talking, leading to a moment reminiscent of the interruption-fest between Trump and Biden a week earlier.
“You’ve had more time than she’s had so far,” said Page amid the crosstalk. “I did not create the rules tonight.”
Pence and Harris went back and forth over the vacant Supreme Court seat during the debate. Pence extolled the administration’s nominee for the seat, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Harris emphasizing that there has never been a Supreme Court nominee confirmed this close to a presidential election.
At one point, Pence asked Harris point-blank whether she and Biden would pack the Supreme Court if they win the presidential election.
“Are you and Joe Biden, if somehow you win this election, going to pack the Supreme Court to get your way?” he said.
“I’m so glad we went through a little history lesson,” Harris responded before changing the topic back to the timing of the Supreme Court vacancy.
Harris yet again did not give an answer about whether a Biden administration would pack the Supreme Court. She and Biden have been asked that question numerous times and have not yet provided an answer.
Pence told the camera that Harris and Biden would.
If you can’t get along, how can we?
Page asked the vice presidential candidates the last question of the night submitted by an eighth grader from Springville, Utah.
“When I watch the news, all I see are two candidates from opposing parties, trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?” read Page. “Your examples could make all the difference to bring us together.”
Pence offered advice to the student: “Don’t assume that what you’re seeing on your local news networks is synonymous with the American people.” He gave the example of the late Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who were famously close friends despite their staunchly opposing political views.
Harris took the opportunity to talk up Biden’s character. “Joe has a longstanding reputation of working across the aisle,” said Harris. “Joe Biden has a history of lifting people up and fighting for their dignity.”
The big buzz
Unfortunately for the vice president, a fly landed on his head late in the evening. Pence had been speaking about law enforcement, pushing back on the notion of implicit bias in policing as “a great insult” to officers.
The fly spurred online parodies from the left — Joe Biden immediately started fundraising and created the URL “flywillvote.com” to help voters register. On the right Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., lamented that the “deep state planted a bug on @VP. The illegal spying is really out of control.”
On social media, audiences were instantly distracted by the visiting insect.
I sent the fly.— Shane McClelland (@McClellandShane) October 8, 2020
I want him to know it was me. pic.twitter.com/J8qlzr8b8j