A fly on the wall of the vice-presidential debate

Vice President Mike Pence speaks in front of a crowd in Gilford, NH on Sept. 22, 2020. Photo by Toni Caushi/BU News Service

By Saumya Rastogi
BU News Service

Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate was less explosive than Trump vs. Biden, but there were still sharp disagreements, as Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris went head to head at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. 

USA Today’s Susan Page moderated the debate. Although the two opponents were more dignified in letting each other speak than their running mates, the event was still full of interruptions and deflections. Moreover, the two minutes to answer the questions took a back seat as they both engaged in verbal spats to be the last person to have a say on the topic.


The debate began with the discussion on COVID-19 and how the respective administrations want to tackle the pandemic. Harris bludgeoned her opponent, Pence, by saying, “the American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”

She called on the 210,000 dead people and seven million people who had contracted the virus to make her point, and argued that none of Trump’s plans to address the pandemic had been successful. She also insinuated a massive cover-up by the Trump administration to keep the people unaware of the virus.

Pence rebutted by saying that Trump suspended all travel from China, which Harris had previously called “xenophobic” and “hysterical.” This is not true, as thousands of people flew from China even after that.

He said that the Biden-Harris plan to tackle coronavirus was plagiarised from their own. He went on to misalign Harris’ words when she talked about how none of the things had worked and said, “I believe American people deserve credit for the sacrifices that they have made.” 

On being asked about the celebration for Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the White House rose garden, which is being called a virus ‘super-spreader’ event, Pence deliberately avoided answering and spun a web of rhetoric in having great confidence in the American people and “their ability to take information and put it into practice in the height of the epidemic.” 

Then, Harris also appealed to the people’s conscience by talking about the “ineptitude” of the Trump administration to speak the truth. 

Partisanship was at its peak when Harris said she would not take a vaccine by Trump and agreed on taking it if public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci were vouching for it.

The Role of the Vice President

Instead of answering about presidential disability and safeguards are taken in case it happened, Pence rebuked Harris for “playing politics with people’s lives.” Both avoided the question. Harris went on to highlight her childhood, political career, and record in the justice department, which has been consequential in the outpouring of relatability and sympathy in voter’s minds. 

Page asked both about the importance of transparency in the health records of public officials. In the past few days, we have seen the miscommunication between the White House and the medical officials treating Trump and their differences in expressing the severity of Trump’s condition, which Pence chose to ignore. Harris also took this opportunity to bring up Trump’s $750 federal income tax, which was recently exposed by the New York Times.

On Employment

Facts took a backseat as Pence repeatedly said that Biden would raise taxes, despite Harris’ insistence that this was false. Biden has proposed tax increases only for households making more than $400,000 per year.

Both doubled down on each other’s failures instead of talking about their own campaign policies, a common theme in the previous debate too.

On Climate Change

“President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to listen to science,” Pence said, despite evidence that the administration has ignored the views of scientists on climate change again and again.

Despite research showing climate change to be a factor in rising forest fires and hurricanes, Pence simply reiterated Trump’s words of “forest management” being an issue.

Pence continuously said that Biden would ban fracking, despite Harris claiming otherwise.

On China

Harris estimated the 300,000 job losses that President Trump’s trade war with China had caused. However, Pence directly attacked Biden’s record with China by calling him out for being a “cheerleader for Communist China through over the last several decades.”

Russia took the center stage briefly as Harris talked about the 2016 election and Russia’s alleged involvement in it. 

Pence said that Trump revered members of the military, to which Harris called out Trump for mocking John McCain as he was a prisoner of war. Recently, Trump has called the fallen American soldiers as “losers” and “suckers.”

On the Supreme Court

Page directly asked both about Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, which could mean the overturning of Roe v Wade. Pence could have easily argued against the widely available abortions, but he chose to attack his opponents’ faith and asserted that he was pro-life. 

Harris brought up the example of the Supreme Court vacancy 27 days before Abraham Lincoln was up for re-election and he chose not to fill it until after the election.

“They’re going to pack the Supreme Court,” Pence said, and Harris refused to answer whether Democrats would expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court. 

On Race

Pence said that Trump had “condemned the KKK, Neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” but in the previous debate, the president told “Proud Boys” to “stand back and stand by,” which many believe was a signal to the alt-right group.

The vice president even attacked Harris’ record as a district attorney in San Francisco and said, “African Americans were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than Whites and Hispanics.” In response, Harris said, “I will not be lectured.”

On Elections

Pence did not answer when asked whether Trump would refuse to accept the election results. Much like his running-mate, he too talked about mail-in ballot fraud, which has no evidence.

A special question by Brooklyn, an 8th grader from Utah, was answered too regarding bipartisanship. Pence said both Scalia and Ginsburg were closest of friends despite being opposites in the court.

Harris, like Biden, ended with an appeal to the American people to not be dissuaded from democratic participation, and to vote.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.