By Ebere Amadi (PO ’22)
On Wednesday, October 7th at 6 PM PST, The U.S. Vice Presidential Debate kicked off with Californian Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Pence clashing in Kingsbury Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah. Senator Harris spent the duration of the debate defending the Presidential nominee Joe Biden and hitting the Trump administration for their poor response to the coronavirus pandemic. Vice President Pence spent a great deal of his time promoting pre-pandemic economic prosperity under the Trump administration, boasting his efforts as the head of the Coronavirus response team. There was a notably milder tone than last week’s debate with fewer interruptions, Harris’ “Excuse me, I’m speaking” gained a lot of traffic on social media with memes already made out of the phrase.
On COVID-19, Harris slammed the Trump administration stating, “The American people have witnessed the greatest failure of any Presidential Administration in our country.” Senator Harris connected the 210,000 Americans dead from the virus to the problems of inequality and the economy— exclaiming, “We’re looking at front-line workers who have been treated like sacrificial workers. We are looking at over thirty million people who in the last several months had to file for unemployment.” Harris echoed that the Trump administration still does not have a substantive plan, whereas Biden’s response would consist of a national strategy for free contact tracing, testing, administration of the vaccine. When the moderator Susan Page asked Vice President Pence, “Why is the U.S. death toll, as a percentage of our population, higher than that of almost every other wealthy country?” he essentially ignored the premise of the question and stuck to a heroic portrayal of the President. Pence exclaimed that the administration had saved numerous lives through their initiatives throughout the pandemic, highlighting Trump’s suspension of all travel from China and attacking Biden for condemning this action as xenophobic. Leading the coronavirus task force personally, Pence boasted of the administration saving lives through their initiatives, knocking Biden and Harris for copying their plans and strategies for addressing the coronavirus. “It looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” Pence stated. This remark was in reference to a speech Biden gave in 1987 that had borrowed lines from a speech by the British politician Neil Kinnock.
On the topic of the Supreme Court, Vice President Pence hammered Senator Harris on whether a Biden administration would try to pack the Supreme Court if Republicans “get their way” and confirm Barrett to the highest court in the land. Pence exclaimed that “the American people really deserve an answer,” slamming Democratic nominee Joe Biden for ducking the question during the first presidential debate last week. “Are you and Joe Biden going to pack the court if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed? Are you going to pack the court?” Pence asked. “Your party is actually openly advocating adding seats to the Supreme Court, which has had nine seats for 150 years, if you don’t get your way.” Harris then refused to directly answer the question, instead taking a historical detour to 1864, explaining why Abraham Lincoln hadn’t appointed a new Supreme Court justice shortly before he was up for reelection, “The American people are voting right now, and it should be their decision about who will serve on this most important body for a lifetime,” she said.
In regards to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, Pence said on the night of the debate that he could not presume how Judge Amy Coney Barrett would vote on abortion cases if confirmed to the Supreme Court. Activists on both pro-choice and pro-life sides of the aisle are paying attention to the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade with the nomination of another conservative judge. Neither Biden nor Harris supports “late-term abortion and infanticide” nor do they support funding abortion “up to the moment of birth.” Biden’s position is that he supports abortion rights and would codify in statute the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade and related precedents, which limits abortions to the first 20 to 24 weeks of gestation.
The debate also highlighted the stark differences between the Trump administration and the Biden campaign over the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Harris cited the ongoing California v. Texas case as a means by Trump’s administration to overturn the ACA. Senator Harris also took time to warn Americans with pre-existing conditions and those who have gained healthcare coverage through the landmark law that “they’re coming for you.” Harris mentioned how COVID-19 could be considered a pre-existing condition in the future, adding that Biden’s desire to introduce a public option, expand coverage, and lower the age of Medicare eligibility. Pence countered stating that the ACA was a “disaster that the American people remember well.” Pence was asked about how the administration would uphold its promise to cover people with pre-existing conditions if the ACA was overturned, but did not provide details for what a potential plan would look like.
The first and only Vice Presidential debate brought forth plenty of important topics affecting American lives in 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic still running rampant within the states, many viewers were curious about how the two camps would tackle the virus differently. What resulted however was a slew of attacks for both camps, Harris on the Trump administrations lackluster pandemic response, and Pence on alleged copying of strategies from the Biden campaign. The duel on the subject of court-packing the Supreme Court with the presumed nomination of Amy Coney Barrett left a non-answer from Senator Harris and heated debate on the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The controversial ACA also saw starkly different opinions between the two camps, with Pence not providing many details on how the Trump administration would cover people with pre-existing conditions if the ACA was overturned, and Harris vehemently defending its existence to protect said individuals. Overall, this debate likely did not convince many people of a clear winner, however, Senator Harris held up very strongly against the incumbent Vice President, asserting her time and delivering strong arguments against the Trump administration’s policies. Pence spent a large portion of the debate dodging important questions from the moderator and Senator Harris, often dismissing the premise of the concerns altogether. We will all see if the Vice President’s performance will contribute towards a victory or defeat come November 3rd.