Recapping The First Vice Presidential Debate
Flies, fracking, and two sheets of plexiglass.
Flies, fracking, and two sheets of plexiglass.
Text: Sophie Lee
Last night, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris took the stage for the first Vice Presidential Debate of the 2020 Presidential Election. Under normal circumstances, vice presidential debates don't generate too much buzz. Unfortunately, these are not normal circumstances. Only moments after it ended, CNN's Jake Tapper called the last presidential debate a "hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck." There was shouting and few questions answered. Probably for the first time in American history, one nominee blatantly told the other to just "shut up." It was a fair shot, but still unprecedented. This is all to say that Americans were anticipating a more civil and policy-focused show from the vice presidential nominees. They got it, sort of.
COVID Takes Center Stage
It comes as no surprise that COVID shaped much of the discussion. The nominees sat at desks 12 feet apart and separated by two sheets of plexiglass. The very first question, directed to Senator Harris, asked what Biden's administration would do differently to handle the pandemic. This, of course, turned into an opportunity for Harris to level some biting criticism at the Trump administration. 210,000 deaths. 7 million cases. 1 in 5 businesses closed. Perhaps most shocking, Harris posited that COVID could be considered a "pre-existing condition" in the near future, as new evidence suggests repercussions from contracting the disease could be long-lasting.
On the other side of the stage, Pence said he believed Americans "deserve credit for the sacrifices they have made." No word on sacrifices made my the administration, though the Vice President clearly supports the President's decisions. Also touched upon was reporting done by Bob Woodward in his new book "Rage," which revealed that Trump knew about the severity of COVID as early as February, despite not acting publicly until much later. President Trump claimed he played down the virus as to not "create a panic."
Pence Talking Over Others: Better than Trump, still worse than a fifth grader
Another reoccurring issue in the debate was Pence's apparent inability to stop speaking when told to do so. "Thank you, Mr. Vice President," quickly trended on Twitter, USA Today's Susan Page's attempt at getting Pence to quiet down. It stood alongside Harris' "Mr. Vice President, I'm speaking," for when Pence continuously interrupted her.
Pence hardly compares to his Commander in Chief's level of interruptions and blatant antagonizing. Even so, he made it apparent that the example the President sets is followed throughout the administration.
Biden Will Not End Fracking
"Joe Biden will not end fracking." It was the most straightforward answer of the night, said by Harris. For those unfamiliar, fracking is the process of drilling very deep into the earth in order to extract fossil fuels. It is great for job production and revenue generation, really bad for the environment.
After evading a question on whether climate change was man-made, Pence argued that Biden wanted to ban fracking and supported the Green New Deal. Both claims are false. As Harris said, Biden does not plan to ban fracking. Last debate, Biden actually stated that the Green New Deal would "pay for itself," but ironically followed up that statement by saying he still doesn't support it.
Environmental policy continues to grow as an important factor in voters' decision-making process. In fact, 79% of Americans think the U.S. should prioritize developing alternative energy sources, a main component of the Green New Deal, which Harris herself co-sponsored in the senate. While denying a ban on fracking may have served to counter Pence's false accusations of radicalism, the position did not necessarily earn points among progressive, predominantly young, voters who desire a more aggressive response to climate disaster.
Pence Trusts The Justice System
In response to a question on whether justice was served in the case of Breonna Taylor's death, Pence stated that he "trusts our justice system" while Harris answered with a resolute "I don't believe so." Racial justice and injustice has been one of the leading contributors to civil unrest in the past few months. Protests broke out across the country in response to numerous cases of police brutality, including that of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home by a police officer.
Why Have We Stopped Talking About Kamala's Record?
The topic of racial justice leads nicely into a separate but related point: Harris' record. The Breonna Taylor question was widely seen as an opportunity for Harris to shine, but it also reminded audiences of her concerning record on issues of social justice.
While serving as Attorney General in California, Harris oversaw the first statewide agency to adopt a body camera program. However, she has also been rightly criticized for her stance on wrongful convictions, on the prison industrial complex, and on the rights of transgender prisoners, to name a few issues. One of the top problems voters have with both Harris and Biden are their changing, and at times troubling, records. While these criticisms were major talking points during the democratic primary, they seem to have been sidelined during the general election in favor of focusing on the "vote blue no matter who" party line, evidenced by the complete lack of questions concerning this topic last night.
Is Trump Planning A Coup? What Does That Even Mean?
In recent weeks, President Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should Joe Biden win the presidential election. The moderator questioned both Harris and Pence on this point. Harris responded with praise for Biden's ability to work on both sides of the aisle. Pence simply reaffirmed his belief that Trump would win the election. It remains unclear what a coup would even look like in America, or if Trump could pull one off. Given their answers, or lack thereof, it seems the vice presidential nominees may be pondering these same questions.
No Answer On Packing The Court
In the presidential debate, Biden refused to give an answer on whether democrats would seek to add more seats to the Supreme Court, should Amy Coney Barrett be instituted under Trump. Once again, Harris evaded the question, instead reiterating her position that the nomination should be postponed until after the election.
Oh, the fly. He was the real star of the show, perched gently on top of Pence's head for at least five minutes, confusing and delighting audiences everywhere. He spawned memes and critical theories. Just a passerby, and an agent of chaos.