Pence vs Harris: Five key takeaways from the Vice Presidential debate

By Richard Hansen


KAMALA Harris and Mike Pence squared off in the sole Vice-Presidential debate last night in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The candidates repeatedly dodged the questions from moderator Susan Page, remaining focused on one thing: correcting the wrongs of last week’s debate.

Vice President Pence was intent on touting the administrations economic success pre-pandemic.

He also did his best to erase the disrespectful, unwatchable filth from last week which saw President Donald Trump constantly interrupt Joe Biden and moderator Chris Wallace in the first Presidential debate.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, the goal was to defend presidential nominee Joe Biden’s record and hammer the administration’s response to coronavirus.

The candidates took the stage separated by 12 feet and plexiglass barriers, demanded by Harris because of the 34 White House staffers and other contacts in the administration’s orbit who have recently tested positive for Covid 19. Pence tested negative for coronavirus on Wednesday ahead of the debate but he is still within the potential incubation period for the virus.

Here are the key takeaways.

It was remarkably unremarkable

After last week’s disaster, that was nice to time warp back to 2004 or so when politics was a lot more civil. Pence and Harris both got a little testy, but no more than a usual debate. This was a standard-fare debate, which this year is oddly comforting. All the expected shots were fired. Like most vice-presidential debates without major incident, I cannot image this is going to sway anybody. I enjoyed having a dose of civility and remembering what politics can look like.

Pence seemed to make a deliberate decision to take a completely different approach than Trump, who aggressively interrupted over 70 times in 90 minutes, often with insults.

“Senator Harris, it’s a privilege to be on the stage with you,” Pence began the debate by saying. Later, he congratulated her on “the historic nature” of her nomination as the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party.

He also turned to Harris and thanked her for both her and Biden’s “expressions of genuine concern” when the president was diagnosed with coronavirus.

When disagreeing, Pence used the line, “You’re entitled to your own opinion,” before adding “you’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Harris clearly wasn’t buying Pence’s politeness, politically motivated or not.

“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” she said whenever he interrupted, words that carried the heavy weight of Trump’s notoriously hard-to-watch performance last week.

Harris also said “If you don’t mind letting me finish, we can have a conversation. The next time Pence interrupted; Harris shot him a single glance. Pence stopped speaking and looked away.

Pence was deflective on climate change, the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the peaceful transition of power

Pence spent a lot of his time either deflecting questions to hammer Harris, or answering previous questions posed to him by Page. When asked about Roe V. Wade, he brought up the Trump administration’s killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. On the question of climate change, Pence pivoted to Joe Biden’s tax plan.

“As I said, Susan, the climate is changing. We’ll follow the science. But, once again, Senator Harris is denying the fact that they’re going to raise taxes on every American,” he said. “Joe Biden said twice in the debate last week that on day one, he was going to repeal the Trump tax cuts. Those tax cuts delivered $2,000 in tax relief to the average family of four across America.”

Most worryingly, Pence danced around the questions of transparency of presidential health as well as a peaceful transition of power if the Republicans lose the election.

“When you talk about accepting the outcome of the election. I must tell you, Senator, your party has spent the last three and a half years overturning the last election. It’s amazing,” Pence said.

Harris dodged questions about expanding the Supreme Court

Like her counterpart, Harris was also cagey when it came to answering politically difficult questions for the Democrats.

Pence was remarkably prosecutorial of Harris’ over the question of court-packing, a move that would allow Biden and Harris, if they win the presidency and Democrats take control of the Senate, to add more members to the Supreme Court and adjust for the conservative majority that Judge Amy Coney Barrett would bring.

Court-packing, which is held highly by progressives, is a more controversial subject amongst moderate Democrats — creating a political tightrope both Biden and Harris continue to walk.

“Now you’ve refused to answer the question, Joe Biden has refused to answer the question,” Pence said. “So I think the American people would really like to know, if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States, are you and Joe Biden, if somehow you win this election, going to pack the supreme court to get your way?”

Harris instead offered a non-answer instead pivoting to the judges which Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have nominated to federal courts across the country.

Coronavirus discussion was largely empathetic

In sharp contrast to Trump’s performance during the debate last week, which almost feels like a lifetime of news cycles ago, Pence offered something the president, who describes himself as a fighter, rarely focuses on: empathy.

Pence consistently offered condolences to Americans who have suffered with the disease or who have lost loved ones.

“You know, there’s not a day gone by that I haven’t thought of every American family that’s lost a loved one. And I want all of you to know that you’ll always be in our hearts and in our prayers,” Pence said.

Harris was quick to point out the Trump administrations failures of controlling the pandemic, which so far has killed more than 211,000 Americans including leaked audio of Trump acknowledging that the disease was airborne in January, long before that critical information was disclosed to the public.

“Whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done, clearly it hasn’t worked. When you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country, American lives that have been lost, families that are grieving that loss,” Harris said.

The world’s most famous fly sets the internet abuzz

On a lighter note, and perhaps the only aspect of the debate which will be remembered in years to come was the fly which landed on Pence’s head during the final section of the debate and remained there for a few minutes.

The fly quickly became a social media sensation.

Even Joe Biden got in on the act, tweeting a photo of himself clutching an orange flyswatter under the heading “Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly.”

Moments later, he tweeted again, this time highlighting Flywillvote.com, which took users to a website set up for his campaign to help supporters make plans to vote.


Featured Images: Gage Skidmore @Flickr

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