At Least It Was a Debate

The vice presidential debate took place on Wednesday night at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page, Senator Kamala Harris and current Vice President (VP) Mike Pence answered a series of questions that included the administration’s handling of COVID-19, foreign policy, the environment, race and the justice system. Held in front of a small, mask-wearing audience with the candidates sitting 10 feet apart, the debate was more subdued than the presidential one. It had less interruptions and erratic statements, making its coverage more plausible and coherent. 

According to an analysis by Harry J. Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, the United States has had the worst unemployment and health outcomes during the pandemic compared to other high income nations. 

When asked why the U.S. death toll was so high in comparison to other wealthy countries, VP and head of the coronavirus task force Mike Pence said, “From the very first day, Donald Trump has put the health of America first.” The VP highlighted Trump’s decision to suspend all travel from China and remarked several times that the U.S. would have a vaccine by the end of 2020

Moncef Slaoui, the leader and scientific head of Operation Warp Speed, said that he would quit if politics were involved in the manufacture and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The F.D.A has implemented stricter guidelines on the release of a vaccine in order to ensure a thorough vetting process is completed before the public gain access. However, the Trump Administration has blocked these guidelines by rejecting a provision that guarantees the vaccine would be released after Nov. 3, 2020, with President Trump repeatedly announcing that a vaccine would be ready by mid-October or early November. 

Senator Harris focused on the death toll and losses many Americans have experienced during the pandemic due to the “incompetence of this administration,” as she stated. When asked whether she would take a vaccine released by the Trump Administration, she said, “If Trump tells us to take it, I won’t.” The Senator confirmed she would only take the vaccine if she was instructed to do so by health experts. 

Debate moderator Page further pressed by asking about the recent Rose Garden event at the White House where several members of the Trump Administration did not wear masks. “How can you expect Americans to follow guidelines when you haven’t?” she asked. 

Pence reasoned that the Trump Administration believed the American people could take information from the C.D.C and put it into practice before proceeding to talk about the empty supreme court justice seat that needed to be filled in light of the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Gingsburg.

In the Photo: Many attendees did not have a face-covering during a ceremony held at the White House Rose Garden to announce Judge Amy Coney Barette as President Trump’s nominee for Supreme Court Justice. Photo Credit: The White House.

Questions about foriegn policy were focused on America’s shift in global leadership. President Trump has removed America from several international treaties, including The Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Deal, and has formally begun withdrawing the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO). Allies and former U.S. officials fear that Trump could attempt to do the same with NATO should he see a second term, the New York Times reported.

Senator Harris spoke about the negative effects of America’s increasing isolationism, stating, “Due to Donald Trump’s unilateral approach and isolationism, he has pulled us out of the international scene and made America less safe.” 

She also spoke about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s backing of Putin’s account of Russian involvement over America’s intelligence agencies. “Russia interfered in the election in 2016 and will do it again in 2020,” said Harris. 

Pence again defended Trump, focusing on America’s involvement in Jerusalem and criticizing the Obama administration for its handling of the Kayla Meullar case. An American volunteer who worked for a humanitarian aid group in Turkey, Mueller was captured, raped and killed by ISIS after accompanying a friend crossing into Aleppo, Syria, to do humanitarian work. 

He highlighted Biden’s hesitation to send military aid under the Obama Administration, stating, “Her family says with a heart that broke the heart of every American that if President Donald Trump had been president, they believe Kayla would be alive today.” 

Senator Harris recognized that what happened was “awful and should have never happened.” She referred to President Trump’s comments on the military and his inaction after public reports showed that Russia had bounties on the heads of American soldiers

“Donald Trump has talked at least six times to Vladimir Putin and never brought up the subject. Biden would hold Russia accountable to any threat,” Senator Harris concluded.  

Related Articles: U.S. Elections 2016 – Trump’s Global Audience | Kamala Harris’s VP Nomination

President Trump has repeatedly denied climate change, stating that the most recent California wildfires would stop as the weather would soon get cooler. When asked about the reality of climate change being an existential threat, in addition to the Trump Administration’s plan to mitigate its effects in response to the extreme and damaging weather storms taking place across the United States, VP Pence emphasized the need to put American jobs and workers first. 

He did not recognize that climate change was an existential threat and further stated that rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement under Senator Harris would cost America many jobs. 

The Paris Agreement aims to keep global warming to well below 2°C, which will require significant investment in clean and renewable energy. The solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy and Forbes suggests that nearly 445,000 people work in the solar and wind industry, compared to the 211,000 who work in coal mining or fossil fuels.

“Clean energy employment grew 3.6% in 2018, adding 110,000 net new jobs and employers.” (Maraccaci, Forbes)  

Over 190 countries have ratified the Paris Climate Agreement — almost every country on earth. If the U.S. hopes to compete in the global economy, then investing in green and renewable energy is the most effective way to do so. 

Pence did however acknowledge that the climate was changing, but disregarded that humans were responsible. “The climate is changing,” he admitted. “The issue is, what is the cause, and what do we do about it? President Trump has made it clear, we’re going to continue to listen to science,” the VP concluded, even as science continues to provide evidence that humans are the cause. 

Senator Harris’ response was concise and aimed at fact-checking every claim VP Pence made including the allegation that Biden’s climate plan would result in a ban on fracking. “Joe Biden will not ban fracking; that is a fact,” she stated. “He understands that the West Coast of our country is burning. He sees what is happening in the Gulf States. He talked with farmers in Iowa. He believes in Science.” 

In the Photo: 2020 vice-presidential debate moderator Susan Page. Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore.

Page asked both candidates whether they believed justice was served in the case of Breonna Taylor. Senator Harris said she did not believe justice was served and tied the case to the more recent killing of George Floyd. The Senator also focused on the solidarity many Americans have shown in fighting for racial justice in the Black community:

“People of every race, gender and age marched shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm for equal justice.” 

The Senator further spoke on the reforms that needed to happen within the criminal justice system, listing a ban on chokeholds and the implementation of a national registry for police officers who break the law.   

Vice President Pence expressed his sympathies but criticized Kamala for saying justice got it wrong while having worked as a prosecutor, to which she replied, “I am the only one on this stage who has personally prosecuted everything from child sexual assault to homicide, I am the only one on this stage who has prosecuted the big banks for taking advantage of homeowners. I am the only one on this stage who prosecuted for-profit colleges for taking advantage of our veterans.” 

In response, VP Pence shifted his focus to the looting and burning that followed after peaceful protests in many states across America. 

The debate ended with a question from Brooklyn Brown, an eighth grade student at Springville Junior High in Utah: 

“When I watch the news, all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans. When I watch the news, all I see is citizens fighting against citizens. When I watch the news, all I see is two candidates from opposing parties try to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are our citizens supposed to get along?” 

President Trump has refused to participate in the next presidential debate, which will be virtual, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, expressing concern that his microphone would be cut off if the debate were to be a virtual event,.“You sit behind a computer and do a debate – it’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want,” he said. 

The President announced he had contracted the virus on Oct. 2, 2020, and was hospitalized for three days thereafter. He has now (13 October) tested negative for COVID-19 two days in a row, but it still remains unclear as to whether or when the next presidential debate will take place.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own, not those of the Featured Photo: Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris. Featured Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

About the Author /

Journalism student at San Francisco State University studying Journalism and International Relations. Sustainability and racial justice reporter whose interests include hiking, reading, and cooking.

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