Americans breathed a sigh of relief as the vice presidential debate, which took place last night on 7th October 2020, between Democratic senator Kamala Karris and Vice President Mike Pence was conducted in a more civilized manner in comparison to the insult-laden first presidential debate last week that spiraled into chaos. While the vice president is often looked over as a stand-by figure whose purpose is simply to advise the president, the stakes are particularly high for the 2020 election, considering the ages of both President Donald Trump and Joe Biden and that the president has recently contracted COVID-19.
The first segment of the debate covered the drastic and devastating impact of COVID-19 on American families and the economy, and the 2-minute responses of the two candidates was nearly a repetition of the main points discussed between Trump and Biden last week.
In her first two-minute speech, Kamala Harris attacked the Trump Administration’s handling of the virus, saying,
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” As Joe Biden did, Harris went on to criticize Trump and Pence for not revealing the true danger and catastrophic consequences that COVID-19 would have on American lives, jobs, and income; “On January 28th, the president and the vice president were informed about the nature of this pandemic. They were informed that it was lethal in consequence, that it is airborne, that it will affect young people, and that it would be contracted because it is airborne. They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you.”
Harris promised that despite the lack of leadership and that “[Trump and Pence] still don’t have a plan,” a Biden administration would provide a national strategy for contact tracing, testing, and administration of a vaccine.
Pence responded by saying, “From the very first day, President Trump has put the health of America first…President Donald Trump did what no other American president had ever done, and that was he suspended all travel from China, the second-largest economy in the world.” He argued that suspending travel from China allowed time to develop medicines and provide medical supplies to hospitals. Pence then accused Biden of plagiarizing the Trump Administration’s plan to fight COVID-19, saying that the plan Pence proposed is simply what the Trump Administration has already executed.
Harris shot back saying, “The American people have had to sacrifice far too much because of the incompetence of this administration.”
Pence tried to prove Biden’s potential incompetence in dealing with the virus by comparing the COVID-19 pandemic to the Obama Administration’s handling of the swine flu pandemic in 2009. However, Pence admitted that the swine flu was less lethal than the coronavirus. The swine flu was considerably milder than COVID-19 and resulted in fewer hospitalizations. The CDC estimates that the swine flu caused around 12,500 deaths in the United States, and as of today, more than 212,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
Harris and Pence then defended their contrasting positions on the economy and healthcare. Harris took the opportunity to offer a warning to the American people about the Trump Administration’s intentions to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 21 million Americans would lose their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act was eliminated, and as many as 133 million Americans who have pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure or asthma, could be disqualified from buying a health insurance policy or be charged higher premiums.
If you have a pre-existing condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they’re coming for you”
— Kamala Harris
“If you have a pre-existing condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they’re coming for you,” Harris said. “If you love someone who has a pre-existing condition, they’re coming for you.”
The death toll in the record-setting California wildfires has reached 31 and an unprecedented 4 million acres of land have burned in 2020. Ash particles and smoke caused western skies to turn an eerie orange-red color for weeks as fires raged.
President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the United States has ‘the world’s cleanest and safest air,’ and Vice President Mike Pence imitated this remark by saying, “According to the best estimates, our air and land are cleaner than any time ever recorded. Our water is among the cleanest in the world.” The U.S. ranks 88th on exposure to particulate matter, and in August 2017 USA Today published an article titled “63 Million Americans Exposed to Unsafe Drinking Water,” explaining that in the past decade 20 percent of Americans have been provided or exposed to dirty, germ-infested, or toxic water. Furthermore, in 2017 alone the United States emitted 6.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Responding to Page’s question regarding the contradicting statements made by Biden concerning the Green New Deal, Harris said, “Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact. I will repeat, Joe Biden has been very clear that he thinks about growing jobs, which is why he will not increase taxes on anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year.” Harris supported her argument that a Biden Administration would be more capable of handling America’s climate issue, stating that the U.S. would reenter the Paris Climate Accord. She went on to connect the climate crisis to the economy. According to Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm, Joe Biden’s economic plan would create 7 million more jobs than Trump’s plan and ensure higher wages for most workers.
Millions of people across the world have protested as part of the Black Lives Matter movement since the beginning of the demonstrations in May, demanding justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and righting to end systemic racism.
“[Breonna Taylor’s] life was taken. Unjustifiably, tragically, and violently,” Harris said. “People around our country, of every race, of every age, of every gender, perfect strangers to each other, marched shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, fighting for us to finally achieve that ideal of equal justice under law.” Harris stated that there needs to be reform in policing and in the criminal justice system in the U.S. None of the four officers involved were charged with the killing of Breonna Taylor as a result of the grand jury vote that took place on 23 September in Louisville, Kentucky.
It really is remarkable that…you would assume that an impaneled grand jury… got it wrong,”
— Mike Pence
Pence gave his sympathies to Breonna Taylor’s family but said that he trusts the justice system in America to properly indict suspects given the evidence available. “It really is remarkable that as a former prosecutor, you would assume that an impaneled grand jury looking at all the evidence got it wrong,” Pence told Harris.
Both candidates interrupted each other several times during the debate and the moderator, Susan Page, repeatedly struggled to keep Harris and Pence from going over the agreed-upon time limits for their speeches and rebuttals. In addition, the rivals both dodged answering certain questions. Pence avoided giving a clear and concise answer in response to Page’s question about protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, and he criticized Harris when she did not give a direct answer in response to his question about adding seats to the Supreme Court. Pence also failed to give a direct answer in response to Page’s question on whether Trump would accept the results of the election and commit to a peaceful transfer of power in November.
Overall, experts doubt that the vice presidential debate had any effect on undecided voters. “Nothing changed the race,” said Jim Messina, Barack Obama’s re-election campaign manager from 2012. The next presidential debate is set to take place on Thursday 15 October in Miami, Florida in a town-hall meeting format. It is yet to be determined whether President Trump or Joe Biden will lose support based on their answers to questions posed by uncommitted voters in the South Florida area.