Eric Baradat / AFP via Getty Images
After a bitter debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden last month, marked by constant interruptions, insults and a moderator unable to control the discussion, Wednesday night’s Vice President debate marked a return to a more traditional affair. .
Whether it will be the last debate in the 2020 presidential campaign is unclear. Trump is recovering in the White House and is sidelined, at least for the moment, from the election campaign after being hospitalized for COVID-19. The president said he plans to travel to Miami for the planned city hall-style debate next Thursday, and Biden said he also plans to attend, but only if the president is no longer ill.
While most voters don’t base their decision on vice-presidential candidates, the 2020 contest is perhaps different. Biden is 77 and has presented himself as a “transition” figure for the next generation of the Democratic Party. And the president is 74 and battling a serious illness.
The vice-presidency debate probably wouldn’t have changed the minds of many voters or changed the trajectory of the race, but it did show stark contrasts between the two parties’ agendas for economics, health care and more. Here are four highlights of the Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:
1. The 2020 elections still hinge on the coronavirus.
Since the beginning of the debate, the pandemic has been at the center of the scene. Spectators were warned not to remove their masks. Candidates sat at desks more than 12 feet apart and separated by plexiglass shields. It was also the first argument.
Harris was aggressive, picking up on the Democratic ticket’s central argument that the Trump administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus was “the biggest failure of any presidential administration in our country’s history.” He accused the president of hiding information about the virus when he was briefed in January by his national security team and argued that Trump did not yet have a plan to fight the disease.
Pence defended the president’s record and pointed to Trump’s decision to limit travel from China in late January as evidence that he took the threat seriously. He noted that the Biden-Harris team’s plan to tackle the coronavirus with testing and vaccine development mirrored the actions the administration has already taken. “It sounds a bit like plagiarism,” Pence said.
He also attempted to portray Harris’ criticism of the administration’s response as an attack on the sacrifices Americans made during the crisis, a response that seemed to fail.
During the debate, whether the question was about economics or health, Harris returned to the administration’s response to the pandemic.
Pence in turn touted what he called record progress in vaccine development and pledged, as the president did before, that millions of doses would be available by the end of the year.
Harris said he would take a vaccine approved by medical professionals, but “if Donald Trump tells us we should take it, I don’t take it.”
Pence said Harris was trying to “undermine public confidence” in the effort to develop and approve a vaccine. “Stop making politics with people’s lives,” he said.
2. This time there was a real debate, but not necessarily the answers to the moderator’s questions.
There have been far fewer angry, interruptive discussions and fewer personal attacks than in the presidential debate. Moderator Susan Page, head of the Washington office of USA Today, called for a “respectful exchange” and regularly reminded candidates that responses should be “uninterrupted”.
Pence and Harris didn’t always comply. And Harris pushed back, calling for Pence as he began to stomp on her answers or cut her time. He scolded him with, “Mr. Vice President, I’m talking. I’m talking.” – clarifying that he would not allow a male opponent who was arguing to get away with scare tactics.
Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images
Both candidates often evaded questions altogether. The moderator chose to move on to new topics rather than ask follow-up questions, which was a missed opportunity on some key issues that could have made headlines or at least educated voters on candidates’ positions. Both ignored a key question that may be prominent with Biden’s age and the president’s illness: what would you do if the president became incapable?
Pence did not answer how a Trump-Pence administration would protect pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act were abolished by the Supreme Court. He also did not explain what he would do if the president did not accept the election results or agreed to a peaceful transition of power.
Harris declined to answer a question posed by both the moderator and again by Pence if he endorsed what many liberal activists are pushing: adding judges to the Supreme Court – court packing. Biden avoided the same question in the first debate.
And they both also dodged a question of what they thought states should do if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which would leave states writing abortion laws.
3. The candidates’ strategies reflected the state of the campaign: Pence attacked Biden-Harris as an extreme; Harris hinged on Trump’s coronavirus record.
Pence’s style of debate is almost polar opposite to that of the president. He was calm and disciplined, and was ready to paint the Biden-Harris ticket as a prisoner of the far left of the Democratic Party, especially on economic issues.
The economy has consistently been the GOP’s biggest ticket issue with voters, but that strength has waned as the country struggles with job losses and business closures. The vice president cited an analysis that Harris was the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate in 2019, and repeatedly linked the Democratic ticket with the Green New Deal, a proposal pushed by progressives in Congress to remake the economy with a new energy infrastructure. Although Harris supported the proposal prior to his appointment, Biden did not.
Pence also said Biden’s vote to cancel the president’s 2017 tax cuts would result in tax hikes for Americans as soon as they take office, even though that would actually require an act of Congress.
Harris appeared in the crowded debates of the Democratic primary, but had less experience in the one-on-one debate stage. She relied on her skills as a prosecutor and came on a mission to hammer the case against Trump’s handling of the pandemic and the fallout for the economy. He took Pence Trump’s stunt double on the subject.
In several exchanges Harris avoided answering the moderator’s questions directly and instead moved the conversation to Trump. He used a question about the Breonna Taylor case in Kentucky to remind the public of an extraordinary moment in the Biden-Trump debate, when the president refused to denounce white supremacists.
4. One fly generated the most buzz.
Eric Baradat / AFP via Getty Images
The debate didn’t generate much news or setbacks, so when a fly landed and stayed on the vice president’s head for over two minutes, people were paralyzed and many turned to social media, unable to resist weighing in with. the jokes. Enormous attention was given to health precautions, ventilation systems and participants’ tests at the debate venue. But the appearance of an insect was a scenario no one prepared for, and it was hard to ignore.
Shortly after the debate ended, the Biden campaign ran an ad for a branded fly swatter.