Vice presidential candidates discuss COVID-19, the economy and higher education in 2nd election debate


Hana Beaty

Graphic made by Hana Beaty

The vice presidential debate for the 2020 election aired on Wednesday night, between current Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic candidate, Kamala Harris. 

As compared to the first presidential debate last week, this debate was more civil, with fewer interruptions and less shouting.

Moderator Susan Page opened the debate with a discussion of COVID-19 and Harris was first to respond, criticizing the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. 

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said. “They knew what was happening and didn’t tell you.”

Harris continued, discussing what would be her response to COVID-19 if elected.

“Our plan is about what we need to do around a national strategy for contact tracing, for testing, for administration of the vaccine and making sure that it will be free for all,” Harris said.

Pence then discussed the action that has been taken by the Trump administration, specifically referring to Trump’s travel ban with China. 

“That decision alone by President Trump bought us invaluable time to stand up the greatest national mobilization since World War II and I believe it saved hundreds of thousands of American lives …” Pence said.

Pence then moved to discuss plans for a vaccine and further stated that the Biden plan is a copy of their own.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, Operation Warpspeed, we believe we’ll have literally tens of millions of doses of a vaccine before the end of this year,” Pence said. “When you look at the Biden plan … it looks a little bit like plagiarism.”

Page moved the discussion to the economy and unemployment, focusing on the economic plans of both administrations. Harris responded first, specifically referring to the tax bill passed by Trump. 

“Joe Biden believes you measure the health and strength of the American economy by the health and strength of the American worker and the American family,” Harris said. “On the other hand you have Donald Trump who measures the strength of the economy based on how rich people are doing … On day one, Joe Biden will repeal that tax bill, he’ll get rid of it.”

Harris continued, indicating that the money provided by eliminating this tax bill will be used to reduce individual student loans by $10,000, ensure that public universities will be free for families who earn under $125,000 a year and that community college will be free for all.

Pence responded, citing that the average household income has increased by $4,000 since Trump has been in office and that Biden will increase taxes for the American people. 

Pence continued, stating that the Biden administration will ban the use of fossil fuels and fracking, before moving to discuss what is to be expected from Trump’s economic plan.

“The American economy, the American comeback is on the ballot, with four more years of growth and opportunity, four more years of President Donald Trump,” Pence said. “2021 will be the biggest economic year in the history of this country.” 

Harris responded, and clarified, that Biden will not raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $400,000 a year and will not ban fracking. 

Pence interjected to disagree and Harris went on to say that Trump is working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would prevent adults under age 26 from using their parent’s health care. 

Page moved the discussion to climate change, offering Pence the first response.

Pence stated that the Trump administration’s plans to follow the science of climate change, trying to determine the causes of climate change and how America should respond.  

Pence went on to indicate that the Green New Deal would hurt the US economy and that having a strong free market economy will drive innovation that will reduce CO2 emissions. 

Harris responded, citing that Biden’s economic plan will address climate change by creating 7 million new jobs, some of which will be in renewable energy sectors. 

Harris stated that climate change is an existential threat and Page directed to Pence, asking him if he agreed. 

Pence restated that the climate is changing and that the Trump administration will follow the science, but ultimately, sidestepped the question and directed the conversation back to taxes. 

Harris then moved the conversation to the economy, indicating that college graduates are unsure if they will be able to find a job and that half of American renters are struggling to make ends meet.

Pence disagreed, stating that the Trump administration created 500,000 jobs in the manufacturing industry.

Page later moved the discussion to racial discrimination and policing.

Harris responded, indicating that the Biden administration will ban chokeholds and carotid holds, and make a national registry for law-breaking police officers before moving to discuss further prison reforms.

“We will, on the issue of criminal justice reform, get rid of private prisons and cash bail and we will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana,” Harris said. 

Pence then responded, recognizing the injustice of George Floyd’s death before stating that the Biden administration is insulting police officers.  

“This presumption that you hear consistently from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, that America is systemically racist and that … law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities is a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement,” Pence said. 

One of the final topics was the transfer of presidential power, relating specifically to President Trump’s lack of commitment to concede the election. 

Page asked Harris what the Biden administration would do to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. 

Harris noted that the Biden administration has great support in government and that his coalition of supporters will assist in ensuring a peaceful transition. 

Page then asked Pence what his role would be as Vice President if Trump refuses to accept a peaceful transfer of power.

Pence sidestepped the question, emphasizing instead that the Democratic party unsuccessfully impeached Trump and that he is confident that Trump will be re-elected.

The next debate will be between Biden and Trump and is scheduled for Oct. 22, as the Oct. 15 debate has been cancelled.

Joel Moret can be reached at [email protected] or @JoelMTheOrion on Twitter.