V.P. Pence and Sen. Harris debate in Utah

Time Magazine | Photo Courtesy
Sen. Kamala Harris advocates for the Biden-Harris ticket and Vice President Pence defends the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.

The 2020 vice presidential debate was held Oct. 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The moderator of the debate was Susan Page of USA Today. Vice President Mike Pence debated Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick, California Senator Kamala Harris. Each of their desks was more than 12 feet apart and separated by plexiglass shields.

Page asked Pence and Harris questions about plans for dealing with the current pandemic, plans for a coronavirus vaccine, foreign policy and relations with China, Breonna Taylor and racial issues in the justice system, the economy and taxes. Harris and Pence also spoke about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barret and the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade—the landmark civil rights case that that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to have an abortion without excessive government restriction—or overturning the Affordable Care Act—a healthcare reform law enacted in 2010, often referred to as Obamacare.

Coronavirus Debate

Much of the debate was related to the coronavirus, the national response to the virus and how to rebuild the lagging economy.

“On January 28, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic,” Kamala said in response to Page’s question about dealing with the pandemic. “They were informed that it’s lethal in consequence, that it is airborne, that it will affect young people and that it would be contracted because it is airborne. And they knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you.”

Harris criticized the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus and cited the over 210,000 Americans that died from COVID-19 at the time of the debate, a number which has risen to 214,446 as of Oct. 13. “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said.

Pence defended the Trump administration’s choices and said that from the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first and cited Trump’s ban on travel from China.

“President Donald Trump did what no other American president had ever done. That was, he suspended all travel from China, the second-largest economy in the world. That decision alone by President Trump bought us invaluable time to set up the greatest national mobilization since World War II,” Pence said.

“China is to blame for the coronavirus and President Trump is not happy about it and he’s made it very clear,” Pence said. “China and the Worldwide Health Organization did not play straight with the American people. They did not let our personnel into China to get information about the coronavirus until the middle of February.” 

Harris said that her ticket’s plan revolves around a national strategy for contacting tracing, testing, administration of the vaccine and making sure it will be free for all.

“The reality is when you look at the Biden plan, it reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way,” Pence said. “When I look at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine, it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” Pence said.

When asked whether she would take a coronavirus vaccine if it was produced under the Trump administration, Harris said that she would “be first in line” to get the vaccine if the public health professional said that Americans should take it, but that she would not take the vaccine if President Trump said to take it.

“The reality is that we are going to have a vaccine in record time, in unheard-of time, in less than a year,” Pence said. “We have five companies in phase three clinical trials. We’re right now producing tens of millions of doses. So the fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration—I think it is unconscionable… Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

China, Economy and Taxes

The debate turned to taxes, the economy and the United States’ relations with American allies and China. Harris spoke on Trump’s trade war with China and said that Trump has betrayed U.S. allies and embraced dictators around the world. Pence said that Trump has been successful with his renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is now the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA).

“Everybody knows that NAFTA cost literally thousands of American factories to close,” Pence said. “We saw automotive jobs go south of the border. President Trump fought to renegotiate NAFTA, and the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement is now the law of the land. It was a huge win for American farmers, especially dairy in the upper Midwest. But Senator, you said it didn’t go far enough on climate change.”

“The president’s trade war with China—you lost that trade war, you lost it,” Harris said. “What ended up happening is because of a so-called trade war with China, America lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Farmers experienced bankruptcy because of it. We are in a manufacturing recession because of it.”

“Lost the trade war with China? Joe Biden never fought it. Joe Biden’s been a cheerleader for communist China over the last several decades,” Pence said. “When Joe Biden was vice president, we lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs.”

The Vice President and Senator discussed the economy and their tickets’ plans to revive the economy from the recession created by the pandemic. Biden said that he would repeal the 2017 Trump tax cuts, which Pence said gave the average working family $2,000 in tax breaks every year. Harris reaffirmed Biden’s word that they plan to repeal Trump’s tax cuts but insisted that taxes will not be raised for the average working-class family.

“On the issue of the economy, I think there couldn’t be a more fundamental difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” Harris said. “Joe Biden believes you measure the health and the strength of America’s economy based on the health and the strength of the American worker and the American family. On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, who measures the strength of the economy based on how rich people are doing.”

“[Biden wants] more taxes, more regulation, banning fracking, abolishing fossil fuel, crushing American energy and economic surrender to China is a prescription for economic decline,” Pence said. “President Trump and I will keep America growing. The V-shaped recovery that’s underway right now will continue with four more years of President Donald Trump.”

“Joe Biden will not raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year. He has been very clear about that. Joe Biden will not end fracking, he has been very clear about that,” Harris said.

On the topic of taxes, Harris cited the recent New York Times release of Trump’s taxes in which he allegedly paid $750 in taxes in both 2016 and 2017 and paid nothing in taxes in the ten years prior. The New York Times’ release of Trump’s alleged tax documents shows that Trump owes over $400 million to unknown creditors.

“It would be really good to know who the president of the United States, the commander in chief, owes money to because the American people have the right to know what is influencing the president’s decisions. And is he making those decisions on the best interest of the American people … or self interest?” Harris said.

“The American people have a president who is a businessman. He is a job-creator,” Pence said. “He’s paid tens of millions of dollars in taxes – payroll taxes, property taxes. He’s created tens of thousands of American jobs. The president said those public reports are not accurate and the president has also released stacks of financial disclosures that the American people can review, just as the law allows.”

Climate Change

Page asked the California Senator and the Vice President about their plans for a response to climate change. Trump and Pence have said that a Biden-Harris ticket would back a “radical leftist” approach, referring to the Green New Deal. Biden criticized the Green New Deal and said during the presidential debate that it was not part of his platform.

“Now with regard to climate change, the climate is changing. But the issue is, what’s the cause? And what do we do about it? President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to continue to listen to the science,” Pence said. He went on to address Harris: “You were the first Senate co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, and while Joe Biden denied the Green New Deal … [it] is on their campaign website.”

“Joe understands that the West Coast of our country is burning,” Harris said. “Joe sees what is happening in the Gulf States, which are being battered by storms. Joe has seen and talked with the farmers in Iowa whose entire crops have been destroyed because of floods. … We have seen a pattern with this administration which is that they don’t believe in science. … Joe believes in science.”

Pence defended the Trump administration’s climate change response and decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which is an international agreement signed by 192 countries with the goal of reducing global warming.

“What’s remarkable is that the United States has reduced CO2 more than the countries who are still in the Paris Climate accord, but we have done it through innovation and we’ve done it through natural gas and fracking,” Pence said. 

Racial Injustices and the Justice System

Page asked the debaters about whether or not they think Breonna Taylor’s family had received justice. Harris said that they did not and that “her life was taken unjustifiably and tragically and violently.” Pence said that he trusts our justice system and the grand jury’s decision.

“As Joe Biden said, he believes that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities [and this] is a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement. And I want everyone to know, who puts on the uniform of law enforcement every day, that President Trump and I stand with you,” Pence said. 

Pence affirmed his agreement with the court’s decision and said that Harris was entitled to her own opinion that assumes the empaneled grand jury looking at the evidence got it wrong.

“I will not sit here and be lectured by the Vice President about what it means to enforce the laws of this country,” Harris said. “I am the only one on this stage that has personally prosecuted everything from child sexual assault to homicide. I am the only person on this stage who has prosecuted the big banks for taking advantage of America’s homeowners. I am the only one on this stage who prosecuted for-profit colleges for taking advantage of our veterans.” 

Harris also spoke about Trump’s comments on Charlottesville and the protestors and neo-nazis present during the defacing of Confederate monuments.

“Senator Harris conveniently admitted after the president made comments about people on either side of the debate over monuments, he condemned the KKK, neo-nazis and white supremacists and has done so repeatedly,” Pence said.

The Supreme Court

Page asked Harris whether the Biden ticket plans on packing the Supreme Court if Judge Amy Coney Barret is sworn in as an associate justice. Harris, like Biden, dodged the question and her answer focused on Trump’s hasty nomination to fill the seat to make a conservative majority in the Supreme Court with what would be six conservative justices and three liberal justices. 

“Joe has been very clear as the American people are: Let the American people fill that seat in the White House, and then we’ll fill that seat on the United States Supreme Court,” Harris said.

Page asked Pence about his support of Barret and whether her nomination would lead to an overturning of Roe v. Wade or the Affordable Care Act.

“I couldn’t be more proud to serve as a vice president to a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life. I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it,” Pence said. “President Trump and I could not be more enthusiastic to see Judge Amy Coney Barret become Justice Amy Coney Barret. She’s a brilliant woman and she will bring a lifetime of experience – and a sizable American family – to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Harris spoke on the problems of repealing the Affordable Care Act and how Americans will be affected.

“If you have a preexisting condition – heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer – they’re coming for you. If you love someone who has a preexisting condition, they’re coming for you. If you are under the age of 26 on your parent’s health insurance, they’re coming for you,” Harris said. 

Pence responded to the question of overturning Roe v. Wade and brought up the Democratic ticket’s pro-choice stance while reaffirming his pro-life stance.

“This is another one of those cases where there’s such a dramatic contrast. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support taxpayer funding of abortion all the way up to the moment of birth—late-term abortion. They want to increase funding to Planned Parenthood of America,” Pence said.

“I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence,” Harris said. 

Up Next

With one presidential debate and one vice presidential debate down, there are two more presidential debates that were scheduled. The second presidential debate set for Oct. 15 was canceled, according to the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, due to the president’s positive coronavirus test. The commission had announced that the debate would take place virtually but Trump refused to participate virtually. The third debate in Nashville, TN is set to take place on Oct. 22.

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