Story by Jamie Sontany / Contributing Writer
Cover photo by Toriana Williams / News Editor
Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence squared off against Senator Kamala Harris for this election cycle’s only vice-presidential debate. While the overall climate of the debate was calmer than last week’s presidential debate showdown, the debate still had an adversarial tone, pointed disregard for the debate’s rules and blatantly unanswered questions.
Both candidates were seated on stage, at the same table but 12 feet apart, with two plexiglass partitions between them. As with last week’s debate, there was no handshake between the candidates.
USA Today’s Washington bureau chief Susan Page served as that night’s moderator. She began the evening by explaining to the audience in the auditorium that everyone must remain masked, and anyone who removed their mask would be immediately asked to leave. During last week’s debate, members of the Trump family refused to wear masks while seated in the audience.
The debate format divided the 90-minute period into segments of nine specific topics. During each segment, Page would ask both candidates specific questions related to each topic, to which they would be given uninterrupted time to answer. The other candidate would then be given uninterrupted time for rebuttal.
Although the nine-segment format was followed, the uninterrupted time rule went by the wayside about eight minutes into the debate. From that point on, Page struggled until the very end to prevent the candidates from interrupting the other and adhering to the rules that were agreed upon beforehand.
Senator Harris used the evening’s debate to strongly criticize the Trump administration’s policies on multiple issues including the pandemic, climate change, taxes and filling the currently vacant Supreme Court seat. Her criticisms were followed with details on Senator Biden’s plans to reverse and/or improve the current policies.
Vice President Pence countered Senator Harris’ criticisms with arguments that the Trump policies that she criticized were all great successes.
Both candidates left questions unanswered during the debate’s segment on Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for U.S. Supreme Court. When asked by moderator Page what he would want Indiana to do if Roe vs. Wade was overturned, Vice President Pence avoided the question and continued his response to the previous segment’s topic about Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
When pressed again by Page to respond to her question, he instead praised Barrett and hoped that she would receive better treatment during her confirmation hearings than what Justice Kavanaugh received and hoped that her Christian faith wouldn’t be attacked.
When moderator Page posed the same question to Senator Harris for her home state of California, Harris stated that she always supported a woman’s right to make decisions for her own body.
In response, Vice President Pence asserted his pro-life beliefs and falsely stated that Senators Biden and Harris supported increased taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood for abortions. While Planned Parenthood does provide abortions, no taxpayer money is used for them.
The candidates’ opposing views on the vacant Supreme Court seat were clear during the discussion, as Senator Harris pointed out that the U.S. is 27 days away from the Nov. 3 Election Day and that more than 4 million Americans have already voted – illustrating her point that appointing a new Supreme Court justice should be put on hold until the results of the election are known.
Pence claimed that the Democratic Party plans to add seats to the Supreme Court if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. He then asked Senator Harris,
“…are you and Joe Biden, if somehow you win this election, going to pack the Supreme Court to get your way?”
Equally as deflective as Vice President Pence of Susan Page’s question about Indiana and Roe vs. Wade, Senator Harris gave no direct answer and instead criticized President Trump’s lack of diversity in his appointments of judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
On the topic of climate change, Vice President Pence declared that a strong, free market economy, along with natural gas and fracking, are why the U.S. has made progress in a cleaner environment. Regarding the Green New Deal, he said that it “would crush American energy, would increase the energy costs of American families in their homes and literally would crush American jobs.”
Senator Harris acknowledged climate change as,
“an existential threat to us as human beings.”
She said that Biden’s plan includes investment in renewable energy, which is expected to create new jobs for Americans. Biden’s plan also includes net zero emissions by 2050, carbon neutral by 2035 and reentering the Paris Climate Accord “with pride.”
By the end of the evening’s debate, many viewers felt like they’d heard mostly practiced campaign responses from both sides and were frustrated by the lack of moderator control to keep the debate on topic.
One of the most memorable moments of the evening occurred during a heated discussion regarding Trump’s goal of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which will also repeal protection for those with preexisting conditions:
“If you have a preexisting condition…they’re coming for you,”
Senator Harris continued, “If you love someone who has a preexisting condition, they’re coming for you. If you’re under the age of 26 on your parents’ coverage, they’re coming for you.”
The next debate, which was originally scheduled for Oct. 15, will be the second presidential debate. This morning the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that this debate would be held remotely due to health concerns related to President Trump’s positive test for COVID-19 last week. After President Trump balked at the decision for a remote debate as “ridiculous,” the Biden campaign suggested pushing the debate back one week to Oct. 22, which was initially planned as the date of the third and final presidential debate. The Trump campaign requested an additional debate to be held on Oct. 29, but the Biden campaign did not agree to that request. As of now, the plans for future debates are still in discussion with both campaigns and have not yet been confirmed.
To contact News Editor Toriana Williams, email email@example.com.
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