Sen. Kamala Harris framed the vice presidential debate with Vice President Mike Pence around the Trump administration’s cavalier response to the coronavirus pandemic while thwarting his attempts to interrupt her several times during the debate.
The debate Wednesday (October 7) night was far more subdued than last week’s contentious showdown between Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, even though Pence seemed to make a better case for Trump’s campaign than Trump himself did last week.
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Noting early in the debate that the Trump administration failed to create a response to the entry of coronavirus into the United States despite knowing that it was coming, Harris went in early on the vice president and stuck to breaking him down for nearly 30 minutes.
“The vice president and president knew that it was lethal in consequence, that it was airborne, that it would affect young people...and they knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you,” she said, looking directly at the television audience. “Can you imagine if you knew on Jan. 28 as opposed to March 13 what they knew, what you might have done to prepare?” She then outlined Biden’s plan to provide contact tracing and a search for a vaccine to stop the spread of the disease.
Pence, who is head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, accused Biden of saying that Trump’s plan to shut down travel from China to prevent entry was “xenophobic.” But he said the action “saved hundreds of thousands of American lives,” and later saying “the reality is under the Biden plan, it looks a lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way.” Pence also called Biden’s plan “plagiarism.”
The debate took several turns in which the moderator, USA Today White House Bureau Chief Susan Page, asked questions about the economy, foreign policy and even whether or not Trump would cede power if he did not win the election, that quite frankly neither candidate answered, but instead chose to speak about the platforms of the tickets they are running on.
The discussion came to Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, which has won Republican support, but which Democrats oppose because of the closeness of the election. Pence remarked about Barrett’s Christian faith and reported criticisms of it and how some fear it will influence her decision making if she sat on the bench.
“Our hope is that she gets a fair hearing,” he said invoking Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the controversy surrounding his nomination. “And our hope is that her Christian faith isn’t attacked.”
To which Harris replied: “Joe and I are people of faith and it’s insulting to suggest that we would knock anyone for their faith.”
But she said that the Biden-Harris ticket’s position is that any Senate hearing on a Supreme Court nominee should take place after the election. “Joe and I have been very clear, let the people fill that seat in the White House then we’ll fill the seat on the Supreme Court.”
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One of the moments of the evening which showed how starkly opposite the two candidates are came when the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor by officers in Louisville, Ky., was brought up by Page. She asked simply if justice was served when Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron did not return a grand jury indictment for the policemen in connection to her death.
Harris replied quickly that justice was not served in the case. “I don’t believe so,” she said.”I’ve talked with Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer and her family and her family deserves justice.” But that brought her to the death of George Floyd in May in which he also died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
“...An American man was tortured and killed under the knee of an armed uniformed police officer,” she said while bringing up the massive demonstrations in response to Floyd’s death. “I believe strongly that while we are never going to condone violence, we must always fight for the values that we hold dear.” She then outlined her ticket’s criminal justice reform plan which includes bans on chokeholds and a national registry for officers convicted of wrongdoing.
Pence said that he felt that the grand jury was correct in not indicting the officers and said that he was surprised at Harris’ position on the Taylor case decision.
“It really is remarkable that as a former prosecutor you would assume that an empaneled grand jury looking at all the evidence got it wrong,” he said. The vice president lamented Floyd’s death but said there’s “no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed.”
For a few minutes during the debate, what looked to be a fly landed on Pence’s hair and stood out on camera, which brought quite a few jabs on social media, particularly from supporters of Harris.
Pence also rejected the notion that law enforcement has an implicit bias against people of color calling it a “great insult” to the law enforcement community. Minutes later the conversation circled to the role of law enforcement and in which Pence tried to upend Harris’ record as a district attorney in San Francisco, which sparked a terse response.
“I will not sit here and be lectured by the vice-president on what it means to enforce the laws of this country," she said. “I am the only one on this stage who has personally prosecuted everything from child sexual assault to homicide.” Before long she also brought up Trump’s avoidance in the debate last week of condemning white supremacists.
“This is a part of a pattern of Donald Trump’s,” she said.
The debate wound up after 90 minutes, with Page managing to keep it on schedule despite the candidates running over their allotted times to respond to one another on specific questions that they wanted to make their points or counter points on.
Pence and Harris ended their contest by answering the question of a young viewer who was worried about the political division of the country. “We can debate vigorously as Senator Harris and I have tonight on this stage,” Pence said. “But when the debate is over, we come together as Americans.”
Harris finished the debate with a final thought supporting Biden: “Joe has a long standing reputation of working across the aisle...and that’s what he’s going to do as president. Joe Biden has a history of lifting people up and fighting for their dignity.”
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