US Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic challenger Kamala Harris squared off in the first and only vice presidential debate ahead of the US’ polling day on November 3. While sparks flew from both sides on issues ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to trade, the debate was markedly less chaotic and more disciplined than the one between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden last week.
Held merely days after President Trump and several other White House officials tested positive for Covid-19, the debate was unlike any before it. The candidates stood more than 12 feet apart and were separated by thick sheets of see-through plexiglass as they sparred before a small, socially distanced audience in Salt Lake, Utah.
A landmark moment from the debate took place within its initial moments itself when Kamala Harris walked on stage to become the first African American and Indian-origin woman to appear in a general election debate.
In a less than subtle nod to the first presidential debate, the moderator Susan Page began the Vice Presidential debate by urging both candidates to be polite. “We want a debate that is lively. But Americans also deserve a discussion that is civil. These are tumultuous times, but we can and will have a respectful exchange,” she said.
Here are the highlights from the Vice Presidential Debate 2020
Harris calls Trump’s handling of Covid “the greatest failure of any presidential administration”
California senator Kamala Harris opened the debate by addressing the Trump administration’s biggest vulnerability at the moment — the coronavirus pandemic. With President Trump himself testing positive last week, the pandemic unsurprisingly took centre stage.
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said, accusing President Trump and his administration of covering up the real threat posed by Covid-19.
In contrast, she said that the Biden administration would focus on “contact tracing, testing, administration of the vaccine, and making sure that it will be free for all.”
— CNN (@CNN) October 8, 2020
Pence takes dig at Biden for ‘plagiarism’ when asked about Covid strategy
When asked about the White House’s handling of the pandemic, Vice President Mike Pence took a potshot at Joe Biden, accusing him of ‘plagiarising’ Trump’s strategy to combat the virus.
Responding to the plan Harris proposed earlier, Pence said, “It looks a little like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little about.”
Pence’s quip was an allusion to an incident that took place decades ago during Biden’s first presidential bid in 1988 when he withdrew from the race after acknowledging that he had copied a few lines from a British politician’s speech without attribution.
Apart from the occasional interjection, the event was largely free from cross-talk, which had dominated the first presidential debate. But when Pence attempted to talk over Harris a few times during the 90-minute contest, the senator calmly said, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”
Pence defends controversial ‘super spreader’ Rose Garden event
The event held at the White House’s Rose Garden more than a week ago, where President Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee, has widely been touted a ‘super spreader’ after at least a dozen of the attendees — including the president and first lady — tested positive for Covid-19.
The moderator Susan Page pointed out that Covid-19 norms like social distancing and mask wearing had not been enforced at the event and asked why Americans should follow safety guidelines when the administration does not follow them themselves. Addressing the controversy, Pence argued that holding the event is about “respecting freedom”.
He denied that the event was a “super spreader”, claiming that there was “a great deal of speculation” involved and noted that “many” but not all of the people at the event “actually were tested for coronavirus”.
Both candidates sidestep questions about Biden and Trump’s age
Both Vice President Pence and Harris pointedly dodged a question about whether they had discussed “safeguards or procedures” with Biden and Trump when it comes to the issue of their age and ability to serve.
Pence deflected by speaking about a possible coronavirus vaccine. Harris instead spoke about her political career, highlighting her role as the the first female district attorney in San Francisco and later the first woman of colour to serve as California’s attorney general.
“I think Joe has asked me to serve with him because he knows that we share, we share a purpose which is about lifting up the American people and after the four years we’ve seen of Donald Trump, unifying our country around our common values and principles,” she said.
Pence then congratulated Harris on the “historic nature” of her nomination — a compliment that stood in sharp contrast with the tone of last week’s presidential debate, which was marked by scathing attacks and interruptions.
The Trump campaign has repeatedly zeroed in on Biden’s age, fitness and mental competency to question whether he is fit for the role. If elected, Biden, who is 77 years old, will be the oldest US President to enter office.
‘Trump lost the trade war with China,’ says Harris
Slamming the Trump administration’s handling of trade, Harris claimed that President Trump had lost the trade war with China that Pence had touted as an accomplishment.
She argued that Trump’s dealings with China led to a “manufacturing recession”, pointing out that the US had lost at least 300,000 manufacturing jobs and that several farmers were also forced into bankruptcy as a result.
Pence fired back by calling Biden a “cheerleader for communist China”. “Lost the trade war with China? Joe Biden never fought it,” he retorted, as the mostly civil debate between the two candidates grew heated.
‘They are coming for you,’ Harris tells Americans with pre-existing conditions
Calling attention to the Trump administration’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Harris warned that Trump could potentially strip millions of Americans of their health insurance.
“If you have a pre-existing condition — heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer — they’re coming for you,” she said, looking straight at the camera. “If you love someone who has a pre-existing condition, they’re coming for you. If you are under the age of 26 on your parents’ coverage, they’re coming for you.”
Responding to Harris’ allegations, Pence called Obamacare a “disaster” and insisted that the Trump administration had a plan to “improve health care and to protect pre-existing conditions for every American”.
While Trump has previously claimed that he was about to release a “wonderful plan”, it is yet to materialise.
Harris and Pence weigh in on whether there was justice for Breonna Taylor
When asked whether they believed justice was done in the Breonna Taylor case, both candidates were able to address the ongoing anti-racism protests that have spread across the country in recent months.
Taylor was a 26-year-old black medical worker who was fatally shot by Louisville police officers in March during a botched drug raid. Harris said that she was “a beautiful young woman” whose life was taken “unjustifiably”.
“I’ve talked with Breonna’s mother and her family, and her family deserves justice,” Harris said. “We’re never going to condone violence. But we always must fight for the values that we hold dear, including the fight for our ideals. I’m a former career prosecutor.”
She added that she had participated in the protests that took place after the custodial killing of African American man George Floyd in May, this year. If elected, Harris vowed that she and Biden would ban police chokeholds and cartoid holds.
Meanwhile, Vice President Pence maintained that while the victim’s family had his sympathies, he had full faith in the country’s justice system.
“This presumption that you hear from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris that America is systemically racist, and as Joe Biden said, he believes that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities, it’s a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement,” he said.
Pence deflects question on the peaceful transfer of power
Pence repeatedly skirted a question about whether Trump would accept the election results if they are not in his favour and peacefully transfer his power to the next president.
“If we have a free and fair election, we know we’re going to have confidence in it, and I believe in my heart that President Trump will be reelected for four more years,” he resolutely said.
Earlier, Trump came under fire when he suggested that he would not leave the oval office without a fight. By refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, the President implied that if he were to lose it would only be because of voter fraud.
Debate ends on hopeful note with question submitted by 8th grader
The last question of the debate was submitted by an eighth-grade student, who asked about the constant “arguing between Democrats and Republicans”. “If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?” The student asked.
Pence responded by hailing the relationship between two Supreme Court Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. “One very liberal, one very conservative,” he said. “But what’s been learned since her passing was the two of them and their families were the very closest friends. I mean, here in America, we can disagree.”
Harris focussed on the divisions that plague the United States. Speaking about how Biden was inspired to run after seeing the violence that broke out in Charlottesville in 2017, she promoted him as a leader who could bridge these divisions.
“Joe Biden has a history of lifting people up and fighting for their dignity,” she said. “I mean, you have to know Joe’s story to know that Joe has known pain, he has known suffering, and he has known love.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines