VP debate 2020: Pence and Harris conflict on coronavirus pandemic

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Media signatureDodging questions and interruptions: While the TP debate was more polite, there were still moments of tension

The candidates for US Vice President argued over the coronavirus pandemic in their only debate ahead of next month’s elections.

Democrat Kamala Harris described Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic as “the greatest failure of a presidential administration” in history.

Vice President Mike Pence, a Republican, said the Democratic Party’s pandemic plan was “plagiarism.”

Democratic candidate Joe Biden has Mr Trump put to the vote within 26 days.

Opinion polls show that the Republican president ranks single-digit in a handful of battlefield states that decide who wins.

Vice presidents have groundbreaking power in the Senate and must step in when a president is unable to perform his duties. Their day-to-day duties vary with each administration, but they typically serve as top advisors and some take on specific portfolios of policies.

The Wednesday night meeting was a civil debate between two smooth communicators compared to last week’s martial showdown between Trump and Biden, which resulted in insults and naming.

Mr. Pence didn’t interrupt as much as the President did last week, but when he did, Ms. Harris put in, “Mr. Vice President, I speak, I speak.”

The viral moment on Wednesday was a fly that landed on Mr. Pence’s head and stayed there for about two minutes.

But there were intense exchanges.

What was the main conversation?

In the 90-minute live debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Ms. Harris accused Mr. Pence and the President of deliberately misleading Americans about the deadly coronavirus.

“They knew and covered it up,” she said, adding that they had “forfeited their right to re-election.”

Mr Pence accused the Biden-Harris campaign of copying the White House’s pandemic strategy, alluding to a mistake that ended Mr Biden’s 1987 presidential candidate when he plagiarized a speech by then-British Labor leader Neil Kinnock.

Ms. Harris was asked by the moderator if she would take an approved Covid-19 vaccine that was distributed prior to the election.

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The 55-year-old California senator said she would not take a jab touted by Mr Trump without the voice of medical professionals.

White House head of the Coronavirus Task Force, Mr. Pence, replied, “The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration is incomprehensible to me.”

The Plexiglas barriers separating the two debaters, 3.6 m apart, vividly recalled the pandemic that killed more than 200,000 Americans.

The president, who is self-recovering from the virus, returned to the White House on Monday evening after spending three nights in the hospital.

On Wednesday, he declared that catching the disease was a “blessing from God” that would expose him to experimental treatments that he vowed would become free for all Americans.

The virus has since spread in the west wing of the White House and infected people in the presidential re-election campaign.

Not a great winner, but the Democrats will be happy

Vice-presidential debates rarely rock the president’s races, and Wednesday night’s duel between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence seems no different.

Both candidates had strong moments and some stumbling blocks over the course of the 90-minute affair. But when it comes to lasting memories, they were rare.

If this was a match that showed the future of the Democratic and Republican parties, the real fireworks will have to wait for years to come.

A memorable result in and of itself is good news for the Democrats and Joe Biden, who are polled to lead the race. Another campaign set piece in the books and one step closer to election day.

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What were the other key moments?

On the issue of racial justice, Mr. Pence expressed his shock at the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. But he added, “There is no excuse for the unrest and looting that follows.”

He pointed to one of his guests in the auditorium, Flora Westbrooks, a black woman whose hair salon was destroyed in the Minneapolis riot.

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Media signatureHarris: If you have a pre-existing illness, they come for you.

He said Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris’ claim that America is systematically racist and that the police have implicit minority biases was “a grave insult”.

Ms. Harris, who made history by becoming the first black woman to enter a stage of debate from the Vice President, said: “Last week the President of the United States entered a stage of debate in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacists.”

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“Huh, huh,” Pence said, arguing that when Ms. Harris was a prosecutor in San Francisco, African Americans were more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than whites or Latinos.

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Media signatureThe most discussed guest who came on stage was also the smallest

In other major hot spots:

  • Ms. Harris said the Trump tariffs on China created a manufacturing recession, adding, “You lost this trade war. You lost it.” Mr. Pence hit back, “Lost the trade war with China? Joe Biden never fought it. Joe Biden has been a cheerleader for communist China for the past few decades.”
  • According to a New York Times investigation, Ms. Harris attacked Mr. Trump for paying $ 750 annually in federal taxes as president. “When I first heard about it, I literally said, ‘You mean $ 750,000?’ And it was like, ‘No, $ 750.’ “
  • Ms. Harris said Mr. Trump “cheated on our friends and hugged dictators around the world”. Mr Pence said Mr Trump had ordered operations that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian supreme general Qasem Soleimani

Which questions did you avoid?

The debate was noteworthy for the questions that the candidates did not answer directly.

Mr Pence twice pressed Ms. Harris on whether Mr Biden would increase the number of seats in the Supreme Court, which has had nine judges for a century and a half, but she spoke instead about Mr Trump’s current candidate for justice.

The constitution doesn’t say how many judges there should be in the Supreme Court. So if a President and a Congress agreed, they could change the law to make it bigger or smaller.

Some Democrats have suggested doing so amid skirmishes over Trump’s candidate, whose endorsement would cement a right-wing majority in the Supreme Court. Mr Biden did not say whether he would support the enlargement of the court if he became president.

Mr Pence – a meek former Indiana governor known for his unwavering loyalty to Mr Trump – never answered questions about whether his Indiana home state should ban abortion or how the Trump administration would ensure medical care for sick Americans.

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Media signatureHarris and Pence avoid questions

Given the 74-year-old Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis and the fact that Biden is the oldest president to ever take office at 78, the focus on running mates has increased.

When asked by the moderator about the chances of taking over the presidency, both candidates bypassed the issue.

Mr Pence, 61, attacked Mr Biden’s handling of the 2009 swine flu outbreak, and Ms. Harris – the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father – shared her own biography.

What did the voters think?

Shloka Ananthanarayanan (Democrat): “I wouldn’t necessarily say there was a moment that stood out, but what stood out was the tone and the fact that no one was yelling at each other during this debate.”

Jim Sullivan (Republican): “Given the age of the two candidates, the vice president election is quite significant this time around. Last week was just worrying so this was a real breath of fresh air. I disagree with Kamala Harris on a lot of things, but they both did well and me liked the format. “

Akayla Sellers (Democrat): “You could have discussed health care, education and the racist riot in much more detail. You see a lot of people on the streets, they are the younger generation and they haven’t discussed that in detail.”

Gordon Kou (Republican): “They defended their candidates better than the actual candidates. Overall the winner was America because we saved a little face after last week’s debacle.”

Read more: Voters give their verdict

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