Mike Pence and Kamala Harris were at least civil to one another on the stage. Photo:

A recap of the only 2020 vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris

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The long-awaited single vice presidential debate between current vice president Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris took place on Wednesday, Oct. 7 at the University of Utah. 

Voters expected a more civil event than what they witnessed last week, with the first presidential debate between former vice president Joe Biden and incumbent Donald Trump. 

It was remembered for many personal attacks and constant interruptions, and Jake Tapper of CNN summarized it as, “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a trainwreck.”

Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, was the moderator for Wednesday’s debate and she was in charge of providing viewers at home a smoother and more digestible exchange with the candidates. 

Unlike the previous vice presidential debates, both candidates came to the event with the American public as familiar with them as they are with the men at the top of their tickets.

Before being Biden’s running mate, Harris was his opponent in the recent Democratic primary and initially, she was one of the strongest candidates for the party’s nomination. 

Her introduction to politics came as the District Attorney for San Francisco, and she would later become California’s Attorney General. 

Although she has been a U.S. Senator for less than four years, she has left a mark for her intense questioning of Trump officials and his 2018 nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.  

Former vice president Joe Biden selected her to boost support among Black voters and to be his olive branch to the progressive bloc of the Democratic Party.  

Pence did not win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives until his third attempt, but he held it for six terms. As Governor of Indiana, he sought to limit a woman’s right to choose and was against protections for the LGBTQ community in cases of work discrimination. 

He initially supported Senator Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, but Trump selected him to be his running mate to capture the evangelical section of the party. 

Vice President Pence is currently the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and the pandemic was the first topic of the debate. 

Talking coronavirus

Before the event, over 210,000 Americans had lost their lives to COVID-19, and President Trump was infected by it after months of downplaying the virus. 

Harris started off by attacking the lack of transparency from the White House around the public health crisis and based her argument on the Bob Woodward tapes, which revealed that Trump knew about the severity of the virus as far back as Jan. 28

“This administration has forfeited their right to reelection based on this,” the Senator said. 

Pence criticized Biden for calling the travel ban on China “xenophobic,” but failed to acknowledge that Trump has reffered to COVID-19 as the “China virus”

The administration could also be accused of using the ban on China to suggest that they were standing up to the rising power and to distract voters from the prolonged trade war with the Asian country.  

The block on travel from China went into effect on Feb. 2, but over a week before, the first cases of COVID-19 were already popping up across Western Europe. 

President Trump did not ban travel from the old continent until March 11

Both candidates failed to answer Page when she asked them about whether they have had a conversation with their presidential candidates about stepping in to fill their seat in case they are to suffer from a disability that impedes them from fulfilling their roles. 

This was a reminder if either Harris or Pence wins in November, they will be serving next to the oldest president in American history and will be first in the line of succession. The thought became after some feared Trump’s health declining after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Harris’ strong point

Arguably the Senator’s most powerful moment of the night was when she discussed the lack of respect President Trump has for the nation’s veterans. 

She mentioned how the Commander in Chief described the brain injuries American service members endured as “headaches” after an Iranian counter-strike on the Al-Asad airbase in Iraq following the killing of their top general, Qasem Soleimani.

“This is about a pattern of Donald Trump, where he has referred to our men who are serving in our military as ‘suckers’ and ‘losers’. Donald Trump, who went to Arlington Cemetery and stood above the graves of our fallen heroes and said ‘what’s in it for them?’ Because of course you know he only thinks about what’s in it for him,” Senator Harris said, referencing an article in The Atlantic.   

While in the Senate, Harris has co-sponsored several progressive pieces of legislation like Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All, which promised to deliver a single-payer healthcare system, and the Green New Deal, an ambitious proposal to combat climate change promoted by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Harris has also consistently been ranked among the top five most liberal voting Senators since being sworn into the upper chamber in 2017. 

In an attempt to separate herself from the leftisit wing of the Democratic party, Harris touted the endorsements her ticket has received from former members of the George W. Bush administration. 

The most notable of those being Bush’s first Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was given more speaking time at the virtual DNC than progressive AOC.

This is not the first time Powell has gone against his party, as he supported Barack Obama over Senator John McCain in 2008. 

Pence quickly acknowledged that endorsements like those of Powell and former Republican Senator from Arizona Jeff Flake represent the “Washington establishment,” and not everyday GOP voters across America. 

He also expressed absolute confidence in his reelection chances alongside President Trump, but polls would suggest otherwise.

In FiveThirtyEight’s recent polling average Biden is up 9.5% nationally and has enjoyed a commanding lead since June. 

In 2008, voters overwhelmingly supported Obama for his promise of “Hope and Change.” Now, they are projected to do so in larger numbers as a referendum on the first-term of the current occupant of the White House, instead of enthusiasm for the former vice president.   

Pence repeatedly went beyond his allotted time, but Senator Harris came across as weak for not interrupting, and she did not show the same fire voters had seen in the first couple Democratic primary debates.

His prior experience as a radio host definitely assisted him in coming across in a calm and centered manner, while expressing views that may be outside of the political mainstream.

Going virtual

The next presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 15, but the Commission on Presidential Debates has told the candidates that the event, which was supposed to be held in Miami, Fla., will now be virtual. 

President Trump has objected to this decision even though the commission cited health and safety concerns, which stem from the fact that he caught COVID-19 last week and had to go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate, that’s not what debating is all about,” he said “You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous.”

This was done in the third presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. 

Kennedy was in New York, Nixon spoke from Los Angeles and the moderator conducted his role from Chicago. 


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