The Vice Presidential Debate on Thursday, October 7th saw Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence battle it out in a historic and highly unusual way. The candidates, separated by plexiglass partitions and 12 feet of distance, undertook the most pressing matters facing our nation including the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States’ current economic situation, climate change, and systemic racism in the United States criminal justice process. The nature of the debate was, as explained by PBS NewsHour broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff, “a much more civil debate than what we saw… when the President and Joe Biden faced off.” While the tension was almost tangible, there were far fewer interruptions between the candidates in the Vice Presidential debate than in the September 29th Presidential Debate and, as a result, a more clear understanding of the stances of each candidate on the debate topics.
Senator Harris began the debate by using her first 2-minute response to call the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak “…the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” going on to criticize the administration’s failure to disclose the deadly nature of the virus at the beginning of the year. She explained that the Biden-Harris plan of attack to lead the American public through the virus is grounded in contact tracing, testing, and free administration of a developed vaccine.
Pence’s retort was based around his work on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. When asked why there has been a higher death toll in the United States from the Coronavirus than any other “wealthy nation” in the world, Vice President Pence responded by calling his work in the Task Force, “…the greatest national mobilization since World War II.” He then claimed that the Biden-Harris plan to slow/stop the spread of the vaccine “..looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about.”
Coronavirus was not the only hot-button issue hashed out in the hour-long debate. Climate change and the candidates’ responses to the proposed Green New Deal was a widely anticipated topic of discussion, specifically in terms of what Pence explained as the Biden-Harris plan to end fracking and pipeline infrastructure. Harris quickly refuted Pence’s claim that the Biden-Harris plan would end fracking. This came as a shock to many viewers who made this claim in spite of her past unequivocal support for the Green New Deal.
China’s role in the United States as a whole took up another sizable portion of the debate, beginning with Pence’s bold position on China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Pence said, “China is responsible for the Coronavirus, and President Trump is not happy about it,” going on to suggest that he believes that China and the World Health Organization are to blame for the spread of COVID-19 to the United States by not allowing earlier intervention by the United States in China. Harris responded by stating that the Trump administration’s behavior toward China has depleted the United State’s reputation and standing as a valuable ally to other nations. Harris said, “This is where we are today because of a failure of leadership from this administration.”
Another major highlight from the debate was Harris’s continued attack on the Trump administration’s lack of transparency to the general public. She specifically referenced the administration’s inability to disclose information pertaining to Trump’s health status and Federal Income Taxes. Both candidates touched briefly on the scandalous nature behind the release of Trump’s financial records following the New York Times’ September investigation and subsequent expose. In normal fashion, Pence ardently defended the President and claimed that Trump’s tax information has been available to review for years and that the reports by the New York Times weren’t exactly accurate.
In spite of the lively and extremely tense atmosphere surrounding the topics up for debate, some of its major highlights came not from the topics up for discussion, but from a few select soundbites from both candidates and (you guessed it) a limelight-stealing insect. For instance, Harris’s response to Pence interrupting her arguments was, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” which became instant internet sensation material directly after she uttered the phrase, with the #ImSpeaking becoming a trending topic on Twitter in the United States. Additionally, Pence said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts,” after Harris denied that a Biden-Harris administration would raise taxes for working-class people in the United States, which became a popular quote among Trump-Pence supporters on social media. Another trending topic was a very courageous fly that landed in Pence’s hair toward the tail end of the debate and stole the show as Pence called Harris’s stance on structural racism presumptuous. The insect sparked a swarm of memes and reaction videos that are still circulating around social media, making the debate a tremendous point of discussion among Americans even weeks after it occurred as well as a momentous and memorable debate that viewers are not likely to forget. — Isabelle Williams
Photo: The two vice presidential candidates hashed it out on October 7, covering a multitude of different issues facing the United States currently. (Biden for President, Creative Commons)