Top 5 vice presidential debate moments between Pence, Harris
In a debate that was both contentious but also cooled down by several degrees compared to last week’s presidential debate, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris squared off Wednesday night on topics ranging from the pandemic to health care to the USMCA.
Pence and Harris, D-Calif., one of whom no matter what will be the vice president to the oldest president of the United States ever elected by January, met in what will be their only face-to-face public appearance of the election. Along with their convention speeches, the Wednesday debate will likely be their highest-profile moments of the general election.
Here are the top five moments of the vice-presidential debate.
1. Coronavirus dustup
Harris opened the debate with aggressive broadsides against the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, taking her attack on its coronavirus response directly to the head of the coronavirus task force.
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said.
“On Jan. 28 the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic,” she continued. “And they knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you… They knew and they covered it up. The president said it was a hoax.”
Harris added: “This administration has forfeited their right to reelection based on this.”
Pence responded by arguing that Joe Biden opposed some of the Trump administration’s earliest actions on the coronavirus.
“I want the American people to know that from the very first day President Donald Trump has put the health of America first,” Pence said before mentioning the ban on travel from China that Trump imposed. “Joe Biden opposed that decision, he said it was xenophobic and hysterical.”
And in response to Harris’ allegations that the Trump administration doesn’t have a plan for the pandemic and Biden does, Pence said that Biden’s plans are very similar to testing, tracing and other efforts the Trump administration has worked on.
“When I look at their plan,” Pence said, “it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about.”
Harris shot back that whatever Pence said Trump are doing, it “clearly hasn’t worked,” citing “210,000 dead bodies.”
2. “I’m not taking it”
Moderator Susan Page asked Harris whether she would take a vaccine that is approved by the Trump administration before the year is out. Harris and other Democrats have been accused recently of casting doubt on the effectiveness and reliability of a potential coronavirus vaccine, and polls show that faith in a vaccine may be dwindling.
Harris made clear that if a vaccine is vocally supported by medical professionals like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, she would be “first in the line to take it.”
But, Harris said, “If Donald Trump tells us we should take it, I’m not taking it.”
Pence responded with incredulity.
“The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine .. is unconscionable,” Pence said. “I ask you, stop playing politics with peoples’ lives.”
3. Debate over the truth
A discussion about economic policy turned to a debate over who is telling the truth to the American people.
As Pence was accusing Harris of telling the American people that she would immediately raise their taxes upon assuming office, Harris smiled and said “That’s not what I said” while shaking her said.
What Harris said was that Biden “believes you measure the health and strength of America’s economy based on the health and the strength of the American worker and the American family. 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% and the biggest corporations of America, leading to a two trillion dollar deficit that the American people are going to have to pay for. On day one, Joe Biden will repeal that tax bill. He’ll get rid of it.”
Their fundamental difference, apparently, was whether the Trump tax cuts actually helped middle-class Americans.
After Pence finished his point, Harris alluded to last week when the presidential debate became an unmanageable mess of interruptions from Trump while Biden was on several occasions just repeating “that’s not true” as Trump talked.
“We saw enough of it in last week’s debate, but I think this is supposed to be a debate based on fact and truth, and the truth and the fact is Joe Biden has been very clear. He will not raise taxes on anybody who makes less than $400,000 a year,” Harris said.
Pence shot back: “Joe Biden said twice in the debate last week that he’s going to repeal the Trump tax cuts. That was tax cuts that gave the average working family to a thousand dollars in a tax break every single year.”
Harris responded, “That is absolutely not true.”
“Is he only going to repeal part of the Trump tax cuts?” Pence asked.
The exchange was emblematic of the polarized state of politics in 2020, with each side approaching the issue not just from completely different perspectives, but from a completely different set of facts. As Page tried to get the candidates to move on to talking about the climate, Pence and Harris continued to shoot barbs at each other over Pence’s claim that Biden would raise taxes as well as his claim that Biden would ban fracking.
“You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” Pence repeated multiple times throughout the remainder of the debate. He could be heard scoffing at one point as Harris reiterated that Biden would not ban fracking.
4. Foreign policy gets personal
Pence and Harris talked about foreign policy in what eventually became personal terms, with Harris assaulting Trump for apparent immorality hurting the United States on the world stage.
“What we have seen with Donald Trump is that he has betrayed our friends and… embraced dictators around the world,” Harris said. “He doesn’t understand what it means to be honest.”
Pence said Trump kept his word when he moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and emphasized that Trump has overseen significant successes in the fight against ISIS.
Pence then attacked Biden over the death of Kayla Mueller, who was abducted by ISIS along with her boyfriend in 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria. Mueller’s parents blame the Obama administration for failing to save her life and were Pence’s guests at the debate Wednesday.
“The reality is that when Joe Biden was vice president, we had an opportunity to save Kayla Mueller,” Pence said. “The military came into the Oval Office, presented a plan. They said they knew where Kayla was… But when Joe Biden was vice president, they hesitated for a month. And when armed forces finally went in, it was clear she had been moved two days earlier.”
“I’m so sorry,” Harris said to Mueller’s parents before going on to attack Trump for his reported comments about military members.
“This is about a pattern of Donald Trump’s where he has referred to our men who are serving in our military as suckers and losers,” Harris said. “Donald Trump, who went to Arlington Cemetery and stood above the graves of our fallen heroes and said, ‘What’s in it for them?’ Because, of course, you know, he only thinks about what’s in it for him.”
“President Donald Trump not only respects but reveres all of those who serve in our armed forces,” Pence said. “And any suggestion otherwise is ridiculous.”
Pence demanded more time to respond to Harris’ accusations, but Page wouldn’t let him continue, citing the fact that the campaigns had agreed to certain rules. Pence continued to talk about the military issue after being asked a question about abortion.
5. Court-packing questions
Pence and Harris went back and forth over the vacant Supreme Court seat during the debate, with Pence extolling the administration’s nominee for the seat, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and Harris emphasizing that there has never been a Supreme Court nominee confirmed this close to a presidential election.
At one point, Pence asked Harris point-blank whether she and Biden would pack the Supreme Court if they win the presidential election.
“Are you and Joe Biden, if somehow you win this election, going to pack the Supreme Court to get your way?” he said.
“I’m so glad we went through a little history lesson,” Harris responded before changing the topic back to the timing of the Supreme Court vacancy.
Harris yet again did not give an answer about whether a Biden administration would pack the Supreme Court. She and Biden have been asked that question numerous times and have not yet provided an answer.
Pence told the camera that Harris and Biden would.
Bonus moment: “I’m the only one on this stage”
As the debate was coming to a close, Harris took the time to remind viewers of her past as a prosecutor after Pence made a point about law enforcement.
“I’m the only one on this stage who has personally prosecuted everything from child sexual assault to homicide,” Harris said. “I’m the only one on the stage who has prosecuted, the big banks for taking advantage of America’s homeowners. I’m the only one on this stage who prosecuted for-profit colleges for taking advantage of our veterans.”
It was the first moment in which Harris explicitly referenced her past as a prosecutor, including as the former attorney general of California, which has been controversial in some liberal circles.
Fox News’ Catilin McFall contributed to this report.