Harris vs. Pence: The Vice Presidential Debate


Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence seated at the debate.

After an explosive Presidential debate and the hospitalization of President Trump, the first Vice Presidential debate took place on Wednesday, October 7. The event was sponsored by the University of Utah, and took place in Kingsbury Hall, Salt Lake City, UT.  Before the debate began, moderator Susan Page started with an introduction, stating the ground rules of the debate, saying that both candidates shall be seated twelve feet apart, as extra precautions have been taken, due to the pandemic. The debate lasted for ninety minutes, with nine segments of about ten minutes each.  Page also stated that the debate should be lively, but also civil, most likely referring to the intense debate between Biden and Trump.

The first question was about COVID-19 and the pandemic. Moderator Page stated that about thirty-nine states had more COVID cases, along with the talk of a possible vaccine. She then asked Senator Kamala Harris what would the Biden administration do that a Trump administration wouldn’t, as the pandemic continues. Harris answered with her statements about how the Trump Administration mishandled the virus, and that they still don’t have a plan to handle it, “Our plan is about what we need to do around a national strategy for contact tracing, for testing, for administration of the vaccine and making sure that it will be free for all.” 

To that, Vice President Mike Pence responded, “President Donald Trump has put the health of Americans first […] under President Trump’s leadership, Operation Warp Speed, we believed, will have literally tens of millions of doses of a vaccine before the end of this year.” After hearing Pence’s answer, Harris counter argues that his claims of what the Trump Administration has done hasn’t worked, as there are over 210,000 Americans dead.  She further states that both Trump and Pence knew about the virus and how serious it was in January, but refused to tell anybody about it.  Pence then responded to Harris, claiming that whatever the President told the American people came from Dr. Fauci, and that he and Dr. Birks came to him in the second week of March to tell the President to take action quickly.

Before she asks her next question, Page tells Pence that he was in the front row in a Rose Garden even eleven days prior, which has led to more Coronavirus cases, as there were no social distancing and very few masks. She then asks the Vice President how he can expect Americans to follow the safety guidelines to protect themselves from the virus, while he hasn’t been doing that in the White House. Pence responded with, “President Trump and I have great confidence in the American people and their ability to take information and put it into practice.” To that, Kamala Harris argues that the Trump Administration was still unwilling to tell the American people the truth about the dangers of the virus, and that the conversation should be more about caring about the American people, rather than asking too much from them without the right information.

The rest of the debate remained civil for the most part, unlike the debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. There was far less interrupting, less personal attacks and aggression towards one another. Even though it was an actual debate, both Harris and Pence weren’t necessarily answering some of Susan Page’s questions. Pence didn’t answer how the Trump administration would protect the already existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act is dismantled by the Supreme Court, nor did he say what he would do if President Trump doesn’t accept the election results or agree to a peaceful transition of power. Additionally, Harris dodged a question from both Pence and Page about court packing. Both candidates also avoided the question, regarding their plans on what the states should do if the Supreme Court dismantles Roe v. Wade

Unlike the Presidential debate, the Vice Presidential debate wasn’t one to generate many newsworthy moments. One of the most memorable moments from the debate was towards the end of the debate, and it was when a fly landed and sat on Pence’s head for over two minutes. Many viewers went to social media, and began to make jokes about the fly stuck on Mike Pence’s head. And because of the attention directed towards Pence and the fly, health precautions were taken, and the attendees at the debate site had to get tested.