Pence, Harris argue COVID response, economy, Supreme Court in vice presidential debate

By Ted O’Neil | The Center Square

With the status of the final two presidential debates up in the air following President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, Wednesday night’s lone vice presidential debate had far more importance than in previous election years.

Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, and California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden’s pick, squared off for 90 minutes in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah.

The debate overall had a far different tone than last week’s debate between Trump and Biden, which was filled with insults and interruptions. The candidates sat at desks placed 12 feet apart and were separated by plexiglass partitions.

Because of Trump’s recent bout with the coronavirus, that was the topic of the first question posed by moderator Susan Page from USA Today.

Harris began by calling the pandemic “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of the country.”

Harris went on to say that Trump was alerted to the virus in late January but did not disclose the information until mid-March.

“If you knew early on, what would you have done differently to prepare?” she asked, looking directly into the camera.

Pence countered that before the United States even had five known cases, Trump suspended all travel from China, where the virus originated, a move that Biden at the time called “racist and xenophobic,” according to Pence.

Pence said the move “bought us invaluable time” and most likely “saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Pence also noted that a vaccine should be available on a large scale by the end of the year. Harris countered by saying if medical professionals said the vaccine was safe, she’d be “first in line,” but that if Trump said to get the vaccine she would not get it.

“Undermining the vaccine is unconscionable,” Pence retorted.

On the topic of the economy, Harris said she and Biden care about how American families are doing, while Trump only cares about “how the rich are doing,” saying Biden would repeal Trump’s tax cuts.

Pence said that he and Trump took office after the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, right after Biden’s tenure as President Barack Obama’s vice president, and that if elected Biden would raise taxes and “go back to an economic surrender to China.”

When the current vacancy on the Supreme Court came up, Pence called current nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett “a brilliant woman” and said she deserves a fair hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on which Harris sits.

Trump and Biden also argued about this issue in their debate last week. Biden believes the appointment should be made based on the outcome of the election next week, while Trump said he was elected for four years, “not three and a half” and is entitled to make the appointment.

The next presidential debate, if it occurs, is scheduled for next Thursday in Miami.