Vice Presidential Debate 2020 (Harris vs. Pence)

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Ruby Hoffman, Staff Writer

By Ruby Hoffman 

While the recent vice presidential debate was a considerably more civil debate than the Trump vs. Biden debate on Sept. 29, the stark contrast between the two major U.S. political parties was again made evident as Senator Kamala Harris (D) and Vice President Mike Pence (R) faced off on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

 The droning and supercilious nature of Vice President Pence’s seasoned debating style fortified his support of what many have recognized as a former Republican party, which no longer stands, and strengthened his refusal to acknowledge the shortfalls of the current Republican administration. By contrast, the exuberant nature of Senator Kamala Harris’s  prosecutorial debating style bolstered the resolve with which she attacked the current Republican administration over accusations of failed service to the American public amid the pandemic, and the economic and environmental crises. 

However, despite their contrasting political stances and manners of debate, both nominees displayed one common tendency: Each levied direct refusal to answer pertinent questions posed to them. 

Questions Deflected by Pence: 

1. The Role of the Vice President – 

Susan Page (Moderator): “One of you will make history on January 20th. You will be the Vice President to the oldest President the United States has ever had. Donald Trump will be 74 years old on inauguration day. Joe Biden will be 78 years old. That has already raised concerns among some voters, concerns that have been sharpened by President Trump’s hospitalization in recent days. Vice President Pence, have you had a conversation or reached an agreement with President Trump about safeguards or procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability? And if not, do you think you should?”  

Pence: “Well, thank you, but I would like to go back because the reality is that we’re going to have a vaccine, Senator [Harris], in record time. … So the fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine, if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration, I think is unconscionable. And Senator, I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives. The reality is that we will have a vaccine, we believe, before the end of this year. And it will have the capacity to save countless American lives. And your continuous undermining of the vaccine is just, it’s unacceptable.” 

Rather than approaching the question over his role as vice president in assuming the role of president in the event that the president becomes incapacitated, Pence spoke past his two minute time-limit on the subject of pandemic control – making a theoretical parallel of the Obama | Biden response to the swine flu, if it were compatible to the lethal nature of the coronavirus, to the Trump | Pence response to the coronavirus. This could be seen as extrapolation, often a form of inaccurate analysis. 

2. Climate Change – 

Page: “ Senator Harris just said that climate change is an existential threat, Vice President Pence, do you believe that climate change poses an existential threat?”

Pence: “As I said, Susan, the climate is changing. We’ll follow the science. But once again, Senator Harris is denying the fact that they’re going to raise taxes on every American.”

Instead of addressing the question on climate change, in full, Pence asserted a generic claim as to the existence of the phenomenon but proceeded to resume his attack on the economic plans of Biden and Harris.

3. Commitment to Peaceful Transfer of Power – 

Page: “President Trump has several times refused to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power after the election. If Vice President Biden is declared the winner and President Trump refuses to accept a peaceful transfer of power, what would be your role and responsibility as vice president? What would you personally do?” 

Pence: “First and foremost I think we’re going to win this election. … But when you talk about accepting the outcome of the election, I must tell you. Senator your party has spent the last three-and-a-half years trying to overturn the results of the last election.” 

As opposed to providing a decisive response as to action that he would take to ensure that the transferral of power is peaceful, come election day, the vice president proceeded to indict the democratic party for rejection of the 2016 election results which landed President Trump in the white house and many other republican politicians into leadership. This claim is unsubstantiated, however dissension between parties did significantly increase in the aftermath of the 2016 elections. 

Questions Deflected by Harris: 

1. Court Packing –

Pence: “Are you [Harris] and Joe Biden, if somehow you win this election, going to pack the Supreme Court to get your way?” 

Harris: “In 1864, one of the, I think political heroes… Abraham Lincoln was up for reelection and it was 27 days before the election. And a seat came open on the United States Supreme Court. Abraham Lincoln’s party was in charge, not only of the White House, but the Senate. But Honest Abe said, ‘It’s not the right thing to do. The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States. And then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of our land.’ And so Joe and I are very clear: The American people are voting right now and it should be their decision about who will serve on this most important body for a lifetime.” 

Rather than expressly answering the question over whether or not Biden and Harris plan to pack the court (the idea that seats will be added to the supreme court in order to enable new appointments of justices to balance out the political standing of the court as a whole), if elected, Harris paralleled Pence’s historical contextualization to respond with more of a ‘We will see’ once the elections results are made public. 

In addition, it is quite notable that Vice President Pence made bold and frequent interruptions of both the female moderator, Susan Page (of USA-Today), and his female counterpart in the debate, Senator Kamala Harris. On this account, it seemed to many viewers as though Pence had an unfair advantage of longer time in which to posit his arguments; however, in post-debate examination a CNN speaking time-tally indicated that Pence only held a three-second advantage, having spoken for 36 minutes and 27 seconds, while Harris spoke for 36 minutes and 24 seconds in total. Nonetheless, Pence squandered a vital opportunity to appeal to collective suburban female voters, yet undecided as to whether they would deliver their vote to the left or to the right, as his conduct reflected a common female experience in the shadows of an ideologically patriarchal society – the devaluation of their opinions and conclusions. 

This is to be the only vice presidential debate held, as by long standing tradition. 

The second of the three scheduled presidential debates of this election year was planned to take place on Oct. 15; however, due to the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis and subsequent refusal to participate in the debate remotely, it has been canceled by the nonpartisan Commision on Presidential Debates. If all events go according to plan, moving forward, then the next and final presidential debate of 2020 will be held between former Vice President Joe Biden (D) and incumbent President Donald J. Trump (R) on Oct. 22, as moderated by Weekend Today co-anchor Kristen Welker.