The 2020 Vice Presidential Debate

The 2020 Vice Presidential Debate

Yulissa Ocampo

On Wednesday, October 7, Vice President Mike Pence and vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris had a debate in Salt Lake City, Utah. Both candidates repeatedly avoided answering questions and chose to pivot onto topics they preferred. Pence and Harris sat 12 feet apart with two panes of plexiglass between them as protection against the coronavirus. COVID-19 was also the first topic up for debate.

Harris and Pence traded accusations over the federal response to the pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 210,000 Americans. Harris harshly criticized the administration’s record, “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” Pence defended the administration’s response and said that the president’s moves in the early days of the pandemic saved lives, “When you say what the American people have done over these last eight months hasn’t worked, that’s a great disservice to the sacrifices the American people have made. The reality is, Dr. Fauci said everything that he told the president in the Oval office the president told the American people.” The candidates later moved on to discussions about the economy, climate change, and a potential vaccine.

Throughout the debate, regardless of the question asked, Harris returned to the administration’s response to the pandemic. Harris accused the president of covering up information about the virus when he was briefed in January by his national security team. She argued that Trump still doesn’t have a plan to combat the disease. Pence, on the other hand, pointed to Trump’s decision to restrict travel from China as evidence that he took the threat seriously. Pence attempted to portray Harris’s criticism as an attack on the sacrifices Americans have made during the crisis. He also noted that the Biden-Harris team’s plan to address the coronavirus, with testing and the development of a vaccine, mirrored actions that the administration has already taken. Pence said, “It looks a bit like plagiarism.”  He announced what he called record-setting progress on developing a vaccine, and pledged that millions of doses would be available by the end of the year. Harris said she would take a vaccine approved by medical professionals, but “if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.” Pence said Harris was trying to undermine public confidence in the effort to develop and approve a vaccine.

Compared to the first presidential debate, this one had far less interrupting, angry cross-talk, and fewer personal attacks. Moderator Susan Page regularly reminded the candidates that answers should be uninterrupted, but Pence and Harris didn’t always comply. Harris pushed back, calling out Pence when he started to step on her answers and took away from her time. She retorted, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking – I’m speaking” making it clear that she wasn’t going to let a male debate opponent get away with any intimidation tactics. Both candidates frequently sidestepped questions, and the moderator chose to move on to new topics rather than ask follow-up questions. This was a lost opportunity on some key issues that could have educated voters about the candidates’ positions.

Tons of attention was given to the various topics, but a fly generated the most buzz. The debate didn’t generate much news, but when a fly landed on the vice president’s head for over two minutes people were transfixed and many ran straight to social media. Shortly after the debate ended, the Biden campaign posted an ad for a branded fly swatter.

The second presidential debate, scheduled for October 15th, was canceled after President Trump tested positive for COVID-19. After the independent commission that runs the debates announced that the second debate would be virtual, Trump said he was “not going to do a virtual debate.” He called the format “a waste of time.” The third presidential debate is still scheduled for October 22nd.