Kamala Harris, Mike Pence Clash Over COVID, Economy at VP Debate

The Pence-Harris face-off was far from the chaos of the first presidential debate last week.

8 min read

Video Editor: Kunal Mehra
Video Producer: Hera Khan

Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence clashed over a range of issues – from COVID-19 to climate change – at the first and only vice presidential debate in Utah on Wednesday, 7 October (ET), ahead of the US elections.

Harris made history as she walked on stage, becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to participate in a general election debate.

The 90-minute debate was divided into 10-sections, with moderator Susan Page struggling to limit Pence to his stipulated time of two minutes.

Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Trump testing positive for the virus, Americans watched the VP debate with renewed awareness as Harris and Pence stood 12 feet apart, instead of the original 7 feet distance,.

The presidential running mates spoke through plexiglass, an arguable tangible reflection of Pence's government’s failed response to COVID-19.

On the Question of the Hour – COVID-19

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," said Kamala Harris, opening the vice-presidential debate by narrowing in on Mike Pence and the Trump administration’s greatest vulnerability: their handling of the coronavirus.

“They knew what was happening, and they didn’t tell you. Can you imagine if you knew on 28 January, as opposed to 13 March, what they knew, what you might have done to prepare? They knew and they covered it up.”

“They minimised the seriousness of it.”

Referring to Joe Biden's plan to combat the virus, Harris said, “contact tracing, testing, administration of the vaccine, and making sure that it will be free for all.”


In a retort, Pence suggested the Biden-Harris plan to combat coronavirus was ripped from the current Trump administration approach.

“The reality is, when you look at the Biden plan, it reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way,” he added.

“I mean, quite frankly, when I look at their plan – that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine – it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” Pence said, referring to Biden’s withdrawal from the 1988 presidential race after acknowledging he lifted phrases from a British politician without attribution, according to reports.

“President Donald Trump did what no other American president had ever done. And that was, he suspended all travel from China, the second largest economy in the world,” he said.

On the Sacrifice of the American People

“The American people have demonstrated over the last eight months – they've been given the facts, they're willing to put the health of their families and their neighbours and people they don't even know first. President Trump and I have great confidence in the American people and their ability to take that information and put it into practice,” Pence said.

“The difference here is President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health,” he added.

“Whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done, clearly it hasn’t worked,” Harris said.

“When you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country, American lives that have been lost, families that are grieving that loss. And, you know, the vice president is the head of the task force.”

"You respect the American people when you tell them the truth. You respect the American people when you have the courage to be a leader, speaking of those things you may not want people to hear, but they need to hear so they can protect themselves. But this administration stood on information that if you had as a parent or a worker, if you didn't have enough money saved up, you're standing in a food line because of the ineptitude," Harris said.

"They've had to sacrifice far too much because of the incompetence of this administration,” she added.


On the Much-Awaited Coronavirus Vaccine

On the question of a possible vaccine, Kamala Harris said, “If Dr Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely.”

“But if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.”

Mike Pence came at her with: “Stop playing politics with people’s lives”.

"The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine, if a vaccine emerges during the Trump Administration, I think is unconscionable,” he said.

“There’s not a day gone by that I haven’t thought of every American family that has lost a loved one,” Pence addressed the American electorate. “I want all of you to know, you’ll always be in our hearts and our prayers.”


On Trump’s Tax Controversy

Speaking of Trump's controversial tax return of just $750 in 2016 and 2017, Harris narrowed in on Trump's mounting debt.

“Just so everyone is clear, when we say in debt, it means you owe money to somebody. It would be really good to know who the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, owes money to,” Harris said.

“Because the American people have a right to know what is influencing the President's decisions. And is he making those decisions on the best interests of the American people, of you, or self-interest?”

“Joe has been incredibly transparent, over many, many years. The one thing we all know about Joe, he puts it all out there. He is honest, he's forthright,” she said.

“But Donald Trump has been about covering up everything.”

On Public Taxes and the American Economy

“Joe Biden believes you measure the health and strength of America’s economy based on the health and strength of the American worker and the American family,” Harris said, in response to a question about whether raising taxes would hinder economic recovery.

“On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, who measures the strength of the economy based on how rich people are doing, which is why he passed a tax bill benefiting the top 1 percent and the biggest corporations of America, leading to a $2 trillion deficit,” she said.

"On Day 1, Joe Biden’s going to raise your taxes,” Pence retorted.

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

Pence also made false claims that a possible Biden administration would ban fracking, something Vice President Biden has said repeatedly he does not support.


On Healthcare for America

More now than ever, America's healthcare is under scrutiny.

“President Trump and I have a plan to improve healthcare and protect pre-existing conditions for every American,” said Pence. “Obamacare was a disaster,” he added, speaking in past tense about a law that is present reality.

Despite Trump's repeated plans to unveil a new healthcare plan, the Trump Administration is yet to reveal one.

“If you have a pre-existing condition – heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer – they’re coming for you,” Kamala Harris said, addressing the American electorate regarding the Affordable Care Act.

“If you love someone who has a pre-existing condition, they’re coming for you. If you are under the age of 26 on your parents’ coverage, they’re coming for you.”

“Obamacare was a disaster, and the American people remember it well," Pence repeated. "President Trump and I have a plan to improve healthcare and to protect pre-existing conditions for every American.”

On Climate Change

Pence, who has long denied climate science made a quick pivot to discussing tax policies. "There are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago, but many climate alarmists use hurricanes and fires to try and sell the Green New Deal," he said, when he did address the question.

“The climate is changing. We’ll follow the science,” he said.

Harris, in contrast, referred to climate change as an 'existential threat'.

“Donald Trump, when asked about the wildfires in California, and the question was, the science is telling us this. You know what Donald Trump said? Science doesn’t know. So let’s talk about who is prepared to lead our country over the course of the next four years on what is an existential threat to us as human beings,” she said.

"Let's talk about who is prepared to lead our country over the course of the next four years on what is an existential threat to us as human beings. Joe is about saying, 'We're going to invest in renewable energy, it's going to be about the creation of millions of jobs, we will achieve zero emissions by 2050, carbon neutral by 2035. Joe has a plan," Harris said, adding that Biden would rejoin the Paris climate accord, which Trump exited as President.


On China: Friend or Foe?

“The vice president earlier said it’s what he thinks as an accomplishment about the President’s trade war with China,” Harris said.

You lost that trade war. You lost it. What ended up happening is because of a so-called trade war with China, America lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs.”

Pence didn't take long to fire back. “Lost the trade war with China? Joe Biden never fought it.”

“First and foremost, China is to blame for the coronavirus,” Pence said. “And President Trump is not happy about it. He’s made that very clear.”

“Joe Biden has been a cheerleader for communist China over the last several decades. And Sen. Harris, you’re entitled to your opinion, not your own facts,” Pence said.

On the Supreme Court Nomination

When asked how the VP candidates would react if the historic Roe V Wade decision that made abortion legal nationwide was overturned, Harris said, “I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and the Vice President Michael Pence.”

“I couldn’t be more proud to serve as vice president to a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life,” Pence said in response. “I’m pro-life. I don’t apologise for it.”

With reference to Barrett's nomination to the vacant Supreme Court seat, Harris echoed Biden's sentiment.

"Joe and I are very clear: The American people are voting right now. And it should be their decision about who will serve on (the court) ... for a lifetime," she said.

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