A showdown in Salt Lake City: a full review of the vice presidential debate

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The University of Utah / Public domain

Election season continues with the vice presidential debate.

Following the Cleveland presidential debate, the vice presidential candidates got a chance to take the stand on Wednesday night. Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, and President Donald Trump’s running mate, Michael “Mike” Pence, intensely debated what the U.S.’s future should look like. From COVID-19 to the Supreme Court, this battle covered many essential topics and may indicate what is in store for the U.S. moving forward.

COVID-19

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Vice President Mike Pence and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris sat 12 feet apart, separated by two plexiglass barriers. Amidst fears concerning Pence’s contact with the infected president, the debate began with a question segment on the coronavirus.

Harris began, stating that the Trump administration “forfeited the right to reelection” based on its pandemic response.

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” she said.

After Pence defended President Trump’s handling of the situation, Harris cited the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died because of the vice president and his response team.

“Whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done, clearly it hasn’t worked,” she said. “When you are looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country, American lives that have been lost, families that are grieving that loss… the vice president is the head of the task force and knew on Jan. 28 how serious this was.”

Harris continued to critique President Trump and Pence’s handling of the virus, explaining what they knew months before the outbreak, which included their knowledge of its lethality, infection rate, and controversial decision not to tell the American people.

“The Trump administration stood on information that if you had as a parent if you had as a worker knowing you didn’t have enough money saved up, and now you are standing in a food line… Can you imagine if you knew what they knew on Jan. 28 as opposed to Mar. 13?” she said.

Harris then questioned the safety of a vaccine recommended by President Trump.

“If Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it [a vaccine], I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely. But if President Trump tells us that we should take it, I am not taking it,” she said.

Pence worked to defend his handling of the virus, especially in response to Harris’s assertion that he handled it poorly.

“When you say what the American people have done over these last eight months hasn’t worked, that’s a great disservice to the sacrifices the American people have made,” Pence said.

Pence, who tested negative for the virus earlier in the day, also defended President Trump.

“The reality is, Dr. Fauci said everything that he told the president in the Oval Office the president told the American people,” he said. “Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

Role of the vice president

Pence stated that there will be a vaccine by the end of the year and told Harris to stop undermining public confidence in it. He then told Harris to “stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

Pence went on to attack Biden’s handling of the 2009 swine flu outbreak, saying, “not 7.5 million people contracted the swine flu; 60 million Americans contracted the swine flu. If it had been as lethal as the coronavirus when Joe Biden was vice president, we would have lost 2 million American lives.” 

Ultimately, neither Pence nor Harris directly answered a question about the possibility they might assume the presidency because of the death or incapacity of their running mates.

Trump’s Health

Page asked whether the American people have the right to know the state of President Trump’s health, a question which stemmed from his doctors recently giving misleading answers or refusing to answer questions about his health.

Pence was first to respond, saying, “the transparency they’ve [President Trump’s doctors] all along the way will continue because the American people have the right to know about the health and well-being of their president.”

This statement contradicted the lack of information provided by President Trump’s doctors recently.

Harris was given a chance to respond to the same question and said, “Absolutely, which is why Joe Biden has been incredibly transparent.” 

Harris brought up that President Trump has only paid $750 in taxes and that he is 4 million dollars in debt, explaining that “It would be really good to know who the president of the U.S. owes money to because the American people have a right to know.”

Economy

To start, Page directed a question towards Harris about whether or not she feels like raising taxes for the wealthy would put economic recovery at risk. Harris was quick to shut down this assumption, saying that Biden was interested in American workers’ and families’ health and well-being. In contrast, she argued that President Trump focused on the satisfaction of only wealthy citizens. Harris noted that Biden’s tax plan would focus on the U.S. becoming a global leader in innovation and would also focus on increasing educational opportunities, such as making two-year community colleges free.

“It’s about investing in the people of the American country,” Harris said.

Page then questioned Pence about how long he thinks the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will take. Pence responded that he and the rest of the Trump administration have significantly improved the economy since taking office. He then spoke to the audience as he claimed that Biden will raise taxes as soon as possible if he gets elected. Pence then claimed that he and President Trump have been doing everything in their power to aid the American workers through this crisis. Pence finished by saying how Biden’s climate initiatives would bury the American economy. With Trump as president, he said, “2021 is going to be this biggest economic year in the history of this country”.

Harris responded by saying that Biden has no intention of raising taxes on anybody with an income of less than $40,000 a year. The conversation then shifted to healthcare and the debate on climate change measures to be taken.

Climate Change

When Page posed a question to Pence about whether or not the floods and the south and fires in the west are due to the climate crisis, he started by saying how proud he was of the climate in the U.S. He said the air and land are cleaner than ever before. He continued to say that President Trump just signed the Great American Outdoors Act, which preserves national parks.

Pence criticized Biden and Harris’s desire to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and sign the Green New Deal, both of which Pence claimed would be detrimental to the American people.

Pence then expressed that he thinks forest management should be front and center in the solution to wildfires, and the hurricanes in the south are no worse than ever before.

Page directed a follow-up question to Harris, asking what the Green New Deal would mean for Americans. She started her argument that she and Biden would create many jobs in the advancement and maintenance of renewable energy sources.

After talking about employment, she proceeded to criticize the Trump administration for not paying attention to science. She ended her speaking time by saying that Biden has a plan to combat the existential threat of climate change and does intend to reenter the U.S. into the Paris Agreement.

To follow, Page asked Pence about whether or not he agreed with Harris that climate change poses an existential threat to society.

“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.

However, Pence said U.S. citizens should be more concerned about how Biden and Harris will raise taxes to fight climate change, rather than the issue itself.

Fracking was a constant topic of discussion on climate change in the debate.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is the fracturing of bedrock and injecting liquid at a high pressure to extract oil or gas. This has been highly controversial since it is a source of energy and jobs for American citizens, but can also be very dangerous and harmful to the environment.

Pence continued to claim that Biden and Harris wanted to ban fracking in the U.S., but Harris refuted this claim saying, “Joe Biden will not ban fracking.”

Relationship with China and the role of American leadership

When asked about what the U.S.’s relationship with China should look like, Pence started by bashing Harris’s views. Finally, Pence began speaking about China, blaming the country for the rise of COVID-19. He said the Trump administration will hold China accountable for their spread of the pandemic.

When Harris was asked the same question, she said that President Trump is the reason for the U.S.’s strained relationship with China. She also noted that a study by Pew Research Center showed that people respect the Chinese Communist Party leader more than President Trump.

Page then shifted the conversation to what global leadership looks like to each of the candidates. Harris said she considers international relations to be like relationships, how you have to help your friends, and identify your adversaries. She claimed President Trump has not been assisting U.S. allies and has been aligning with dictators instead. She used Trump’s involvement with Russia and withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal as evidence for her claim.

“He [President Trump] doesn’t understand what it means to be honest,” Harris said.

Pence refuted Harris’s claim, saying that the Trump administration always keeps their word. He then talked about the Trump administration’s work against ISIS. He brought up the case of Kayla Mueller, a woman who was kidnapped and raped in Syria by ISIS. This was during the time of the Obama administration.

“Her family says with a heart that broke the heart of every American that if President Trump had been president, they believe Kayla would be alive today,” Pence said.

Harris was then given another turn to talk. She immediately acknowledged the family of Kayla Mueller, saying how sorry she was for their loss. She then spoke about how she feels President Trump has shown poor leadership and little respect for American military troops. Pence refuted this claim.

 

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Supreme Court

The next topic of discussion regarded issues in the Supreme Court.

Pence was the first to speak, expressing his excitement for President Trump’s Supreme Court judge pick, Amy Coney Barrett. However, he said he is worried that Barrett’s trial will be difficult due to criticism of her Christian faith and pro-life stance.

“We hope she gets a fair hearing. We particularly hope that we don’t see the kind of attacks on her Christian faith that we saw before,” Pence said.

Next, Harris had a turn to respond, attacking Pence and President Trump for Barrett’s nomination before the election.

“[Biden] 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 U.S. Supreme Court,” Harris said.

Harris also took this as an opportunity to bring up the Affordable Care Act, which makes health insurance more affordable. Harris said that President Trump would like to end this act, which would leave millions without health insurance.

Another topic related to the Supreme Court was abortion and what the candidates would do if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Harris took a pro-choice stance, saying she will always defend “a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body.” On the other hand, Pence took a pro-life stance, saying he “couldn’t be more proud to serve as vice president to a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life.”

Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter Movement

The next question Page asked concerned Breonna Taylor. In March, Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency technician in Louisville, was shot and killed after police officers broke into her apartment.

“I don’t believe [justice was done],” Harris said. 

She spoke empathetically in Taylor’s memory and recalled the time she spent with Taylor’s family. Harris transitioned to talking about George Floyd and the BLM movement as a whole, presenting the Biden-Harris plan to reduce and eventually eradicate the problem of systemic racism in America.

“An American man was tortured and killed under the knee of an armed, uniformed officer. And people around our country of every age, of every gender, perfect strangers to each other, marched arm in arm, fighting for us to finally achieve that ideal of equal justice under the law. And I was a part of those peaceful protests,” Harris said. 

On the protests, Harris said: “We are never going to condone violence, but we must always fight for the values that we hold dear, including the fight to achieve our ideals.”

Harris elaborated, addressing police reform and juxtaposing Floyd and Taylor’s deaths to America’s racism.

“We need reform of our policing in America and our criminal justice system,” she said.

She stated her plan to get rid of private prisons and cash bails, decriminalize marijuana, and expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana charges.

Pence expressed his sympathies for the Taylor family before shifting his focus to the protests and their violent tendencies.

“There is no excuse for what happened to George Floyd. Justice will be served. There is also no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed, ” he said.

His quick transition resulted in a digression from the initial question.

“I mean, it really is astonishing. Flor Westbrook is here with us tonight in Salt Lake City. A few weeks ago, I stood at what used to be her salon. It was burned to the ground by rioters and looters,” Pence continued.

Pence suggested his opposition to claims that America is systemically racist and that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities. He used this as a platform to compel law enforcement members to vote for his ticket come Nov. 3.

“I want everyone who puts on the uniform of law enforcement every day, to know that President Trump and I stand with you,” said Pence.

Pence attacked Harris’s judicial record and reiterated his support for law enforcement, and then came the fly. A small, dark fly sat atop the vice president’s head for two minutes and three seconds, sending the internet – particularly Twitter – into a frenzy.

Within minutes, the fly became the focal point of the 90-minute long debate. It was trending on Twitter with recommendations to get a COVID-19 test and jests about Pence’s lethargic stature, which enabled the fly to remain on his shiny white hair for the duration of his speaking time.

By midnight, an account for the fly – @MikePenceFly – had upwards of 70 thousand followers on twitter. The account, which has surpassed 100 thousand followers, posts in advocacy of the Biden-Harris ticket and pro-LGBTQ content, including links to donate to anti-conversion therapy groups.

Biden and his team were also quick to act. Biden posted a link to ‘flywillvote.com’ as well as a photoshopped image of Biden holding a flyswatter. His caption, “Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly,” evolved into a new campaign product. Biden’s team began producing a purchasable fly swatter, with ‘Truth over Flies’ and ‘Biden-Harris’ printed on it.

Last words on the integrity of the election

As the debate came to a close, the candidates had an opportunity to make any final statements or remarks regarding the election’s integrity.

Harris reminded everyone of the importance of voting as she encouraged voters to “Fight for the integrity of democracy. We have it in our power […] to make the decision about what will be the course of our country for the next four years.”

Pence took a different approach.

When asked what his response would be if the Trump Administration loses, Pence confidently stated, “I believe in all my heart that President Trump will be re-elected.”

He attacked the Democratic party’s attempt to overturn the 2016 election results and ensured that he and the President are fighting to ensure the 2020 election remains free and fair.

The debate closed with a unique question, coming from a student in Utah. The student asked how American citizens are supposed to get along when the country’s leaders cannot.

In response, Mike Pence said, “Here in America, we can disagree, we can debate vigorously as Sen. Harris and I have on this stage tonight. But when the debate is over, we come together as American.”

He also referenced the media’s unreliability and stated that the information we’re given on our local news might not be synonymous with the American people.

However, Kamala Harris warmly noted that the student’s question was a “sign of leadership.”

“When you think about the future, I do believe the future is bright, and it will be because of your leadership, and it will be because we fight for each person’s voice through their vote and we get engaged in this election,” she said.

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