The vice presidential debate was broadcast live from the University of Utah on Oct. 7, with Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief of USA TODAY, moderating.
Page announced that everyone was taking extra precautions after President Donald Trump had tested positive for COVID-19 after last week’s debate. There was a live audience who wore masks and social distanced. The vice-presidential candidates were stationed 6 feet apart with two sheets of plexiglass separating them.
The debate was structured with nine segments, each about 10 minutes long. Each candidate was allotted two minutes of response time to each question, and then allowed to respond to the other’s claims for about six minutes.
In the first segment, Page asked about COVID-19.
Senator Kamala Harris was the first to respond, stating that the Trump administration had the greatest failure of any presidential administration in American history because of the way the Trump administration handled the pandemic.
She talked about how on Jan. 28 the president was informed of the deadly nature of the pandemic and hid the information. By minimizing the seriousness of the pandemic, they failed the American people, Harris said.
Vice President Mike Pence responded, saying that Trump put the health of Americans first, suspending all travel from China, even with the economic risks. He said that doctors had told him that even if they did everything right, America could still lose more than 200,000 citizens.
“The American people, I believe, deserve credit for the sacrifices they have made, putting the health of their family and their neighbors first,” said Pence.
The next segment discussed how either candidate will be the vice president to the oldest president in American history. Trump will be 74, and Joe Biden will be 78 on inauguration day. Page asked if the candidates have had a conversation about procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability.
Pence asked if he could instead go back to the previous subject and talk about how he believes a vaccine will be created for the pandemic before the end of this year, with the capacity to save countless lives. He also brought up the Obama administration’s handling of the Swine Flu in 2009, and how he thinks if the Swine Flu was as deadly as COVID-19, it would have been a much bigger disaster than now.
Harris talked about how when she got the call to serve on the ticket, she thought about her mother. Her mother is an immigrant to the United States.
“Joe and I were raised in a very similar way,” Harris said. “We were raised with values that are about hard work.”
She also talked about her qualifications for serving as the vice president, including being the second black woman elected to the United States senate.
Page then brought up that neither candidate has been forthcoming about their detailed health information, and asked candidates if that is information that voters deserve to know.
Pence responded first, thanking the people for their concern for the President, and congratulating Harris on the historic nature of her nomination.
Harris said that voters absolutely have a right to know about the health records of their candidates. She said that Biden has been incredibly transparent, but Trump has not. She brought up recent reports that Trump only paid $750 in taxes during the last election season.
Pence refuted, saying Trump has paid millions of dollars in taxes.
The next segment was about the economy, questioning the candidates on the unemployment rate and discouraged workers.
Harris said that Biden’s campaign will invest in infrastructure and renewable energy. She also said that she will decrease the cost of college, allowing students whose families make less than $125,000 a year will be able to attend public universities for free. Biden’s administration will cut student loan debt by $10,000.
“That’s how Joe Biden thinks about the economy,” Harris said. “It’s about investing in the people of this country.”
Pence talked about how Trump has cut taxes and increased the average income of an American family of four by $4,000. He said that the Trump administration had spared no expense to help the American family through this pandemic.
Next, Page changed the topic to climate change, posing the first question to Pence, asking him if man-made climate change is making natural disasters worse.
Pence discussed how our water is the cleanest in the world, and how President Trump has made a commitment to our environment by signing the Outdoors Act. He opposed the Paris Climate Accord and said that the progress America has made in a cleaner environment is due to the free-market economy.
Harris said that Joe Biden will not ban fracking. He will not increase taxes for anyone that makes less than $400,000 a year. She claimed Biden has an economic plan that has been said to create seven million more jobs than Trump’s.
“Joe believes in science,” Harris said.
Page brought up the topic of foreign relations, asking Pence to describe America’s fundamental relationship with China.
Pence said that China is to blame for the coronavirus and Trump isn’t happy about it. He said the Trump administration wants to hold China accountable for what they did to America with the coronavirus pandemic.
Harris said that the Trump administration’s approach to China has resulted in the loss of American lives, jobs and standing in the eyes of our foreign allies. She said the Trump administration has had a failure of leadership.
Harris said that American leadership and foreign policy is all about relationships. She said that Trump has betrayed our friends and embraced dictators all over the world.
Pence brought up many successes of the Trump administration, including strengthening alliances across the Asia-Pacific. He talked about how Trump unleashed the American military to destroy the ISIS caliphate.
“We’ve stood strong against those who would do us harm,” Pence said.
The next topic addressed the vacancy in the Supreme Court.
Pence said that he and President Trump could not be more enthusiastic to see their nomination become a Supreme Court judge. He said he hopes that she gets a fair hearing.
Harris said we are in an election, with 27 days until official election day.
“Let the American people fill that seat in the white house and then we’ll fill the seat in the Supreme Court,” Harris said.
Harris stated that she is firmly pro-choice and is fighting for the Affordable Care Act, which are issues that she feels are threatened by Trump’s nomination for Supreme Court.
Harris also said that when President Abraham Lincoln was up for re-election and there were 27 days before the election when a seat opened up in the Supreme Court. Abraham Lincoln declined to fill the seat because he felt it was not the right thing to do.
Next, Page turned the topic to racial justice and asked each candidate if justice had been done for Breonna Taylor.
Harris said that justice was not done for Breonna Taylor. She said that bad cops are bad for good cops. The Biden administration has plans to ban chokeholds and corroded holds, as well as requiring a national registry for police officers who break the law. They also plan to get rid of private prisons and cash bail, as well as decriminalizing marijuana.
Pence said that it was a tragic event but he trusts the justice system. He said there was no excuse for what happened with George Floyd, but there was also no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed. He said that it is a great insult to say that law enforcement has an implicit bias against African Americans.
“We don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement, improving public safety and supporting our African American neighbors,” Pence said.
Next, Page asked each candidate what they would do if President Trump refused a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.
Harris said she is very proud of the coalition supporting Biden’s campaign, and urged citizens to vote.
“We will not let anyone subvert our democracy like Donald Trump has been doing,” said Harris.
Pence said that he thinks Trump will win the election because Trump has the support of everyday Americans.
The final question was not one that Page wrote, but it came from an 8th grader at Springville Junior High. She asked about the division of parties and the infighting of the country. She said our leaders should be examples, and asked if our leaders can’t get along, how could our citizens get along.
Pence said that people are allowed to disagree in America because we celebrate our differences. He told her not to assume that the news is an accurate representation of the American people.
“Here in America, we can disagree,” Pence said. “But when the debate is over, we come together as Americans.”
Harris said that Biden has a longstanding reputation of working with both parties. She said that the future is bright because of the young leaders of the country.