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Original photo by Emily Pellegrino
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Thoughts on the Vice Presidential Debate

Despite being a political science major, I have never fully seen a presidential debate. While I would watch important clips and read about what they said, I would never sit down and watch one live – until now, that is. I was excited to learn that the Vice Presidential debate this year would take place in Utah at our very own campus. While I couldn’t attend in person, I enjoyed watching the debate at my house.

The debate looked very different from usual to take precautions for COVID-19. The audience was masked up and socially distant, spaced out so there was only a handful in the actual auditorium itself. There was also a plexiglass wall between the candidates. The debate was much more civil than the presidential debate; while there were some interruptions and going overtime here and there, the candidates were much more well-behaved. They focused on arguments and policies rather than attacking each other. Despite the debate lasting an hour and a half, I was intrigued the whole time and was fully in-tuned to what the candidates were debating on: it made me want to watch more full debates in the future.

One thing that surprised me was that the candidates seemed to be displaying their own talking points, rather than answering the questions that were directly asked, which isn’t what I expected. For example, the moderator once asked Vice President Pence about what happened with the Rose Garden event, and he started talking about the American people making sacrifices and the importance of the Supreme Court. 

Overall, Senator Harris tended to be future-thinking with all her answers and talked about how the Biden administration will address the problems facing America and what plans they have, whereas Pence would talk about how the Trump administration had done what was right in the past and would continue the same policies. I did need to have the live fact-checker from the New York Times with me while watching because there were misleading statements from the candidates or, in some cases, their ‘facts’ were outright false. If you haven’t already, I would look at one of these fact-checkers to see which arguments had real facts behind them. 


vice presidential debate 2020
Original photo by Emily Pellegrino

Here’s what the candidates had to say on particular issues. 

COVID-19: Senator Harris discussed how Biden has a plan for tackling COVID-19 which involves contact tracing, finding a vaccine, and administering it to everyone for free. She also talked about how the Trump administration knew about the coronavirus earlier than they announced, but covered it up and didn’t take action until later. Vice President Pence stated that shutting down travel from China gave Trump’s team more time to respond to the pandemic and that Biden’s plan is a lot of what the President’s task force is already doing. 

The Economy: Senator Harris explained how Biden wants to invest more in research and development to gain new advances in the country, and wants to create free college. Vice President Pence talked about how Biden’s plans would raise taxes and how he thinks the tax cuts that Trump created would help families. Senator Harris also discussed transparency, and how Biden has shown his tax records and medical history, but Trump wouldn’t do so. 

Climate Change: Vice President Prence talked about how the Biden administration would re-enter the climate change agreement, but he wouldn’t actually say that climate change exists and would only say, “The climate is changing”. Senator Harris said they would re-enter the climate change agreement with pride and explained that the Biden administration would follow the advice of scientists to combat climate change. 

International Relations: Senator Harris discussed how the Trump administration broke up with their allies and embraced relationships with dictatorships. She also talked about their relationship with Russia and how the President trusts Russia more than the American CIA. She even cited a Pew Research poll where the public of allied countries stated they hold the leader of China in higher esteem now than the American president. Vice President Pence talked about the importance of ‘keeping up’ with foreign allies. 

Supreme Court: Vice President Pence explained how they will fill the open spot in the Supreme Court and attacked the Biden-Harris administration for possibly court-packing if they get elected. Senator Harris brought up how there was a vacancy in the Supreme Court when Lincoln was president and he wanted to wait for the next election year because it wasn’t the right thing to do. She also talked about the lack of diversity in the nominees from the Trump administration and how, “not one of them was black”.

Racial Justice: Senator Harris says that justice was not done in Breonna Taylor’s case and that the Biden administration will get rid of private prisons, ban certain chokeholds, and decriminalize marijuana to combat police brutality and the lack of racial equality in the justice system.  Pence stated that he will always stand with the police, that they know what they are doing and their administration shouldn’t have to choose between supporting black people and supporting the police. Senator Harris also stated that she is the only one on the stage who has actually prosecuted cases and has experience with the justice system, and how, as Attorney General, she put into place training on implicit bias and body cams in her state. 

Election: Senator Harris talked about how Biden has the support of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, and how they will bring integrity back to the white house. Pence said the Trump administration thinks they are going to win and will continue what they are doing. 

Audience Question (a special question from an eighth-grade student, ending the debate talking about divisions between people seen on the news): Vice President Pence explained that the divisions seen on TV news don’t represent divisions of people in real life, and how Justice Ginsburg, who was very liberal, and Justice Scalia, who is very conservative, were still friends in life. Senator Harris discussed how Biden decided to run for president after the 2017 ‘Unite the Right rally’ in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of a counter-protestor, and that he wants to heal the divisions in the country if he becomes president. 

Since this was the first and only Vice Presidential debate of this year, I thought it was very important to watch, and I thought the Vice Presidential candidates successfully explained what their administrations would do if they got the presidency and represented their various policy positions. I think after this debate I got a better idea of what each administration represents and what they would do in office.

Ashmita Shanthakumar is a student at the University of Utah pursuing a BA in English and Political Science. She is the Politics & Entertainment News Correspondent for HC Utah for 2020-21. When she's not writing you can find her watching old movies, petting friendly cats, and talking about superheroes.
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