The Policy Discussion: The First Vice Presidential Debate of 2020

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This Wednesday at 9 PM vice presidential candidates, current VP Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, went head to head on key issues. The debate was projected to be much more cordial, organized and issue-based than the first Presidential Debate

Topics included the COVID-19 pandemic response, the economy, healthcare, the environment, China and Russia relations, and racial inequality. 

The debate was divided into 9-10 minute sections. The candidates were separated by plexiglass for safety, as Trump tested positive for COVID-19 this week and Pence had been in close proximity to him. 

The debate was much more calm and controlled, partially because of the moderator, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, and partially because of the temperament of the candidates themselves.

The debate opened with a question about COVID-19. Harris, who immediately called the Trump administration’s reaction to the pandemic a “great disaster.”

She proceeded to declare that the administration had information about the pandemic before it began, directly talking to the camera using pronouns like “you”  just as Biden had in his debate with Trump. Harris then said  that the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response plan would be to protect the American people.

Pence likewise looked directly into the camera. He stated that the  international travel restrictions and his leading of the Pandemic Task Force had “saved lives” of millions of Americans. 

He asserted that the vaccine could save “millions of Americans” by the end of the year. 

Harris followed up by stating that the Trump administration knew about but hid information about the danger of the virus because it wanted people to remain calm. Pence responded by expressing sympathy for the lives lost in the pandemic.

Harris said she would be the “first in line” to take a vaccine if doctors and scientists approved it, but not if just Trump said to do so.

Pence was asked what would happen if something were to happen to Trump during his battle with COVID and if a conversation about it had been had. Instead of answering, Pence turned back to the previous topic and asked Harris to stop playing “politics with people’s lives.” Harris was asked the same question about presidential disability and proceeded to also veer off topic, discussing the correlation between her life and Joe Biden’s. 

Page asked if the voters “deserve” to know the health status of the president. Pence said “the American people have a right to know about the health and safety of the president”. Later, he congratulated Harris on her position on the ballot and how historic it is. 

Harris mentioned the tax returns of the president and her shock at learning that Trump is deep in debt. Harris demanded that Trump be transparent about whom he owes money to, Pence stated that Trump said that the stories in the New York Times about his tax returns — which claim that Trump paid no taxes at all in 10 of the last 15 years — are not accurate. 

The next topic was job availability and unemployment in the crisis. Harris outlined  the Democratic ticket’s plan for infrastructure and education. An important aspect for students, Harris said, is that Biden plans to reduce student loan repayment by at least 10%. 

Pence stated that Biden wants to repeal all tariffs created by Trump, a reversal which Pence said would damage the economy and the democracy.

Another crucial topic for students, which Harris brought up, is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and for students under 26 years of age who are on their parents’ health care plans. 

In a segment on climate change, Pence said that our “air and water are cleaner than ever recorded” and that Trump has made a “commitment” to climate change. Pence said the Green New Deal and Paris Accord, the latter of which is supported by Biden, would  “crush” the U.S. economy. Pence agreed with  Trump’s assertion that better “forest management” would help prevent forest fires out west.

Harris outlined the Democrats’  plan for job creation and environmentally-friendly infrastructure and jobs. She stated that the Trump administration “doesn’t believe in science,” quoting Trump about his response to a question about climate change. Pence focused on the nation’s progress at reducing CO2 emissions.

The next topic concerned China and Trump’s statement in which he blamed  China for the virus. Pence came right out and said, “China is to blame for the Coronavirus,” a very controversial position in.

Harris said that the administration has shown a “failure of leadership”  in dealings with the leader of the Chinese Communist party, Xi Jinping. The Senator proceeded to bring up the Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Intelligence Committee’s belief that it has begun to occur again in the early phases of the 2020 election. Her overarching point was the strength of international relationships and honesty.

Pence spoke about the death of Kayla Mueller at the hands of ISIS and that the family, which was in attendance, believes she would’ve been saved has Trump been in office.Harris expressed her sympathy for the family but tied it to the  larger issue of veteran protection and the bounties put on American soldiers by the Russian government. Pence took additional time to assure the American people that Trump cares about U.S. soldiers. 

Pence said it is “essential” to have a president who will do hard things, such as taking out leaders like Osama bin Laden, which he believes Biden would  not be capable of doing. He also said that he supports the nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Harris returned to the Affordable Care Act while discussing her belief that Roe v Wade must stay in place to protect women’s rights to make decisions over their own bodies. 

Pence took an opportunity to pose a question to Harris about whether the Democrats, if elected, would pack the court to mute the influence of Barrett should she be named to the Supreme Court. Harris responded by giving Pence a “history lesson” about President Lincoln’s decision to wait to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court until after an election. Pence proceeded to use his time to restate his question to Harris and told the American people that a Democratic Congress would pack the court. 

On racial injustice and the death of Breona Taylor, Harris said she believes justice has not been done due to the failure to indict the police officers who killed Taylor, a Black woman. The Senator also brought up the death of George Floyd and the need to reform criminal justice. 

Pence said he was  sympathetic to the family of Breona Taylor but simply stated he had faith in the justice system and that justice had been served, if  not for George Floyd. He continued to denounce the riots and looting that had ensued. The vice president said that it was an “insult” to assume that the U.S. is “inherently racist.” 

The final topic was on a peaceful transfer of power, in case President Trump loses re-election.

Harris focused her response on their belief in democracy and decency and the importance of voting. Pence responded with his faith in their ability to win the election. The vice president used the remainder of his time to discuss the investigation of the 2016 election and the impeachment of President Trump. He said that he has confidence in a “free and fair election”. 

A statement posed by an 8th grade student of Utah, regarding the leadership and frequency of the media to cover discourse. Pence said that people on opposing sides of the aisle, such as the late Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Scalia, that people can come together. Harris referenced Biden’s history of working across that aisle and that the “future is bright” and that the people will fight. 

Although more calm than the first Presidential Debate, each candidate still took shots at each other, the Trump administration, and the Obama administration. Pence continued to speak numerous times when the moderator asked him to conclude, which Harris did far less frequently.