Mike Pence and Kamala Harris squared off in the first vice presidential debate on Wednesday night as the US voters are set to choose a new president in the keenly contested elections on November 3. Unlike last week’s debate between Trump and Biden, this was relatively more civil and perhaps more in form with election debates in the US. The main talking points were of course Covid-19 and how the Trump administration has handled the outbreak. The US has some of the highest infections, as well as some of the highest Covid-19-related deaths.
Harris accused the Trump administration of intentionally misleading Americans about the severity of the infection and blasted the government’s mishandling of the outbreak. According to a BBC report, Harris said: “They knew, and they covered it up. The Trump administration had hence forfeited their right to re-election.
Pence defended his government and attempted to side-step hard questions by saying: “The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration I think is unconscionable.” Pence is also heading the White House coronavirus task force. The BBC report can be here.
A report by The Guardian believes that “there was no real contest in the vice-presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence. Harris wiped the floor with him.” This report focuses on Pence’s conduct and treatment of Harris and Susan Page, a USA Today correspondent who was tasked with moderating the debate. This isn’t the first time that Pence has been criticised for his views on women.
A 2017 news report by The Washington Post on Pence’s wife Karen, had mentioned how the vice-president had once told a reporter that he “never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side”. When this report had been published, it resulted in a fierce debate on whether Pence was being chivalrous towards his wife or sexist towards women, although the quote was from an interview done 15 years ago. Unlike Harris, Pence is also fiercy anti-abortion and has spoken openly about his Christian faith and how religion influences his personal life and politics.
The debate was “frustrating” The Guardian says, “especially for any woman who has ever been in a room with an interjecting, condescending man. Pence repeatedly interrupted Harris, something she rarely did to him; he repeatedly talked over…Page…when she told him his time was up; he repeatedly flouted the rules he had previously agreed to. The disrespect of women was tangible, and it happened over and over.” You can read it here.
The US Supreme Court and racial injustice were also touched upon by the two candidates. Pence said that a Harris-Biden White House would mean that the Democrats would “pack” the Supreme Court by adding liberal justices. The Washington Post quoted Pence saying: “If you haven’t figured it out yet, the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court.”
Harris, a former prosecutor, said that a Biden-Harris administration would expunge records of people convicted of marijuana-related offences. “We will decriminalize marijuana,” she said.
Harris also expressed support for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who had been killed by police earlier this year and said that the woman had not been given justice following the minimizing of charges against police officers who had killed her.
The Washington Post reported: “Pence said he trusts our justice system” and said there is “no excuse for rioting and looting.” He then told Harris he considers it an “insult” when Biden and Harris refer to systemic racism in the criminal justice system.” You can read that report here.
But Harris’s statements also brought back focus on her own record as a prosecutor, particularly her programme that targeted parents of children who were missing school. Harris’s policies were threatening these parents with prosecution and punishment that included jail, to force them to send their children to school. Critics have said that this programme disproportionately targeted poor people of colour, particularly women facing economic hardship in the United States.
Social media was flooded with GIFs and videos during this debate because in the midst of it, a fly landed and sat for two whole minutes on Mike Pence’s head. The word ‘flies’ began trending on Twitter, with many social media users claiming that the insect was attracted to garbage, equating Pence with waste. Observers also focussed on Pence’s reddened eye, leading to suggestions that he may have conjunctivitis, a symptom of Covid-19. Despite other White House personnel testing positive for the infection, Pence’s team had said that the vice president had tested negative. You can read a story on this by The Guardian that has a collection of videos of Pence and the fly.
The debate focussed on a range of subjects, including the coronavirus pandemic, a vaccine, healthcare, economic recovery in the US, China, taxes etc. Reuters has a selection of the most relevant quotes by both candidates on all the issues that were brought up during the debate and that report can be read here.