Recap: the 2020 Vice Presidential debate


Anna Gould, Reporter

On Wednesday night, current Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris battled toe-to-toe during the only Vice Presidential debate of this important election season. With moderator Susan Page from ABC news in charge, the two candidates hashed it out discussing topics, like the pandemic, health care, the economy, climate change and racial injustice, that are central to our democracy. 

Right off the bat, Senator Harris did not hesitate to condemn Mike Pence and the Trump Administration with their handling of the coronavirus. Calling Trump’s reaction to COVID-19 the “greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country” when he knowingly did nothing to stop the spread in early February, Harris capitalized on being truthful to the American people. She made it explicit that transparency while in office is a crucial part to running the country, especially during a global pandemic. With this, Senator Harris stated, “You respect the American people when you tell them the truth.” She actively rolled out Joe Biden’s plan for handling our current situation by mandating a national contact tracing strategy, a secure testing program and a safe and reliable vaccine that is available to all.  

To retaliate, Vice President Pence insisted that fighting against this deadly pandemic means putting “Health in America first.” As a solution, he laid out the Trump Administration’s plan to distribute a vaccine by the end of the year, which leading health experts like Dr. Anthony Faucci find very unlikely. Pence also made it clear that China was to blame for the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 200,000 in the United States. In contrast to his own rhetoric, he devised plans to make amends with China all the while making them pay for the damage that they did to our country. 

A heated topic that goes hand-in-hand with the current situation is the economy, which both candidates debated heavily throughout the 90-minute program. Pence was adamant on telling the American people that the economy has been prosperous under Trump and is expected to stay on track to have the biggest economic year yet in 2021. However, this is not entirely true. The current unemployment rate sits at 7.9 percent, a drastic drop from 14.7 percent in April, but it has no indication of tapering off soon. Pence also capitalized that out of the 22 million jobs lost at the beginning of the pandemic, 11.6 million were added back, which still puts the economy at a 10.4 million job deficit. 

Senator Harris took a different perspective when explaining our current economic situation. She contrasted President Trump’s handling of the economy to what Biden will do if the election were to sway in his favor. Taking a patriotic approach, the Senator said, “Joe Biden believes you measure the health and strength of America’s economy based on the health and the strength of the American worker and the American family.” With this move, she quickly criticized the tax bill Trump passed that only benefited the wealthy. At the same time, Harris rolled out Biden’s economic plan for the future: repealing that same Trump tax bill, raising taxes on those who make more than $400,000 and making community college free.     

Just like when President Trump refused the dismissal of white supremacy, Vice President Pence never clearly stated that climate change is a real and prominent problem to our society. When questioned on the topic, Pence answered, “The climate is changing,” but quickly switched the subject and attacked Harris on her environmental policies and future plans to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Not only this, Pence repeatedly made the claim that Biden was in favor of abolishing fracking. While this may not be entirely true, the Vice President was relentless on bringing back the topic to the discussion.

In contrast, Senator Harris stated her beliefs in climate change and assured the American people that Biden listens to the scientists. She recognized the existential threat that climate change brings and focused on investing in renewable energy. With this, the Biden and Harris campaign hopes to create millions of jobs, achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and become carbon neutral by 2035.  

Holding her own, Senator Harris wasted no time discussing social issues like abortion and racial injustice while on the debate stage. When talking about the former, Harris explained her pro-choice approach to women’s reproductive rights, which are at stake if the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, is repealed. “I will always fight,” Harris began, “for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body.” This starkly contrasts Pence’s views on the subject. When prompted with a question pertaining to how he would handle the abortion situation in Indiana, where he formerly governed, the Vice President did not exactly give a clear answer. After meandering around the question, Pence finally circled back and gave an answer: “I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it.” Upon this statement, he made the claim that the Biden and Harris campaign are strong believers in using tax payer’s money to fund abortions, which is untrue.   

The final topic covered during the debate is prevalent to our current societal circumstances, racial injustice. In the midst of a social revolution, the two candidates took wildly different stances. Harris, a former federal prosecutor for the state of California, weighed in on the Breonna Taylor case that has shocked our nation. She remarked that Taylor did not receive justice and that her life was taken, “unjustifiably and tragically and violently.” Going even further, the Senator stated, “Bad cops are bad for good cops,” which progressed to Biden’s plan for police reform: banning chokeholds and carotid holds, a national registry for those police officers who break the law and decriminalizing marijuana among other things. 

When asked the same question regarding the Breonna Taylor case, Pence responded very distinctly. He gave sympathy to the families of Breonna Taylor and even mentioned George Floyd, but overall, Pence trusts the justice system. After that, he quickly switched the topic to the rioting and looting that has occurred across the country. While the Vice President did not explicitly state his administration plan for police reform, he did attack Harris on her history as a federal prosecutor. 

While this debate may seem more professional than the last, one thing remains the same: it is imperative that you as an American citizen exercise your right to vote. We are not just electing an official into office; we are voting to maintain democracy and the basic human rights that so many of our ancestors fought hard to achieve. The time is now to make a difference.

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