Wednesday morning, my usually very politically engaged mom told me that she’d rather stick knives in her eyes than watch this debate. After a year of political turmoil, she, and I am sure many others, have had enough! So, if you feel like my mom does, I am happy to sum up the one and only Vice Presidential Debate between Democratic nominee Kamala Harris and current Vice President Mike Pence.
Overall, this debate felt very predictable--both candidates consistently defended their running mates and unpacked their records and policies, but with slightly more courtesy and respect than last week’s debate offered. The main difference came in temperament. Yes, there were several interruptions (mainly by Pence), but they were more strictly regulated by moderator Susan Page, who routinely had to cut Pence off from exceeding the time limit, exclaiming, “Thank you Mr Vice President.” Harris also refuted the interruptions consistently, echoing, “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking” and “I would like equal time.”
Harris set the tone for the night by calling the handling of Covid-19 the “greatest failure of any presidential administration in our country.” She broke down the fact that the President and Vice President knew about this pandemic and its severity in January and lied about it. Harris described the Biden Harris plan as one that would provide free doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and more access to testing. Pence insisted that the Trump administration is already taking these actions and called Biden’s plan “plagiarism.”
Both candidates dodged questions surrounding their running mates’ ages and the health concerns associated with them. Pence insisted that Trump is in great health and on being transparent about it with the American people, he insisted, “we’ll continue to do that.”
Harris questioned how the White House could claim transparency when Trump’s taxes were not made transparent by the President. While explaining the implication of Trump’s bankruptcy, she stated “it would be really good to know who the President of the United States owes money to” and “what’s influencing his decisions.” Pence maintained Trump’s previous claim that the leaked taxes are incorrect.
The larger economic discourse featured Harris’ statement that Biden measures the health of the economy “based on the health and strength of the American worker and family” while Trump measures it “based on how rich people are doing.” She elaborated on their plan to tax the very wealthy and corporations, in contrast to Trump’s consistent tax breaks to each. Pence countered by saying that Trump’s tax cut created “rising wages predominantly for blue-collar workers.” He implied that Biden’s plan would hurt these workers, to which Harris responded, “this is supposed to be a debate based on fact and truth” and repeated the fact that Biden wouldn’t raise taxes on Americans in the lowest tax brackets.
While discussing climate change, Pence claimed that the Trump Administration is “listening to the scientists” but made no concrete promises to improve climate change. Harris announced that the Biden administration would “re enter the Paris agreement with pride.” In addition, Biden would create “seven million more jobs than trump...in clean energy and renewable energy.”
The next topic surrounded what the United States’ relationship with China should and would be like under each administration. Harris criticized the China Trade War, explaining, “America lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs, farmers went bankrupt...we are in a manufacturing recession” and called it a “failure of leadership.” Pence claimed that 200,000 manufacturing jobs were lost under Biden and that Biden “has been a cheerleader for Communist China.” He concluded by praising Trump’s bravery in shutting down travel to and from China amid the Coronavirus.
Harris reframed this conversation in the context of foreign policy as a whole, stating, “it’s about relationships.” She critiqued President Trump for befriending the United States’ adversaries and spurning our allies. Pence argued that Trump moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem was enough to uphold global diplomacy and did not address Harris’ arguments that Trump “embraced dictators around the world” including not questioning Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Moving to the Supreme Court, Pence expressed the concern that Trump’s nominee, Coney Barrett, is being discriminated against for being Catholic and that Democrats are being inconsistent. Harris proclaimed that “Joe Biden and I are both people of faith and it’s insulting to suggest we would knock anyone because of their faith.” She also maintained her commitment to protecting a woman’s right to choose and every citizen’s right to healthcare.
“If you love someone who has a preexisting condition, they’re coming for you,” Harris announced while stating why she and Joe Biden are defending the Affordable Care Act. Pence then pressed Harris about the possibility of the Biden administration packing the court with liberal justices, claiming that if Democrats “can’t win” they will “change the rules.”
Harris turned to history and cited Abraham Lincoln as an example of a President who did not appoint a justice this close to an election. Because over five million Americans have already cast a ballot, she maintained that it “should be their decision.”
The penultimate topics were race relations in America and police reform. While Pence questioned Harris’ prosecutor and California Attorney General record, claiming she harmed the African American community, Harris defended it and listed a series of policies that she enacted in California that would serve the country (including all marginalized communities) well, such as, “requiring national registry for police officers who break the law, getting rid of private jails, getting rid of cash bail, and legalizing marijuana.”
In the midst of a very serious discussion about Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, a fly landed on Mike Pence’s head and stayed there for a very noticeable few minutes. This sparked the most Twitter outrage of any point of the night! The fly now has its own Twitter account, @Mikepencefly!
While the fly continued to circle the Vice President’s hair, Harris condemned Trump’s comments about neo-nazis in Charlottesville, telling the American people that we need a President who can “recognize beauty in diversity.” To this, Pence said, “The President has Jewish grandchildren.” Harris’s comments made it clear that this alone does not make someone an ally.
To conclude, Pence dodged the question of whether Trump would peacefully leave the White House if Biden won, exclaiming, “I believe with all my heart that President Donald trump will be re-elected for four more years.” Harris then echoed Biden’s plea to “vote and vote early” and mentioned the support their campaign had from many prominent Independents and Republicans, including George W Bush cabinet members, Cindy McCain, and John Kasich.