Harris Handles Pence in Salt Lake City Debate

2020 VP Debate – US Vice President Mike Pence and Candidate of US Vice President Kamala Harris |Photo by Flickr

By Jeremiah P. Duffy

University of Utah in Salt Lake City hosted the vice presidential debates between Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris and current Vice President Mike Pence of the Republican Party.

 Although these debates were a stark contrast to the presidential one,  they still had their own dramatic moments. Both running mates brought approaches as divided and contrary as their party lines.

Moderated by USA Today’s Washington bureau chief Susan Page, some of the topics addressed included the pandemic response, the state of the economy, criminal justice reform, the role of the vice president, climate change, the “super spreader” event and the transition of power. In the words of Wolf Blitzer of CNN, the debate played out “much more civil” than the presidential one, but the Biden-Harris and Trump-Pence tickets were not interested in finding common ground. As the death toll of COVID-19 surpassed 210,000, Americans wanted more answers than they received from the stage. 

21-year-old SUNY Fredonia student Calla Bellis, a New York resident, shared an interview with Pandora’s Box while receiving treatment inside an upstate  hospital. For Bellis COVID-19 and health care are extremely important debate topics.

“So I’m kind of shitting myself, because I have insurance, but I don’t have Donald Trump insurance,” said Bellis.  “I have poor people’s insurance,” Bellis added, referring to the Affordable Care Act plan also known as Obamacare. “So if it weren’t for the ACA I would have thought about coming to the hospital, but wouldn’t have.”

Letrice Donaldson, a professor in the department of History and Philosophy at York, watched the debate and clearly thought Harris got the best of Pence.

“I think the first thing voters should notice was the way that Pence masterfully didn’t answer really any questions that were asked of him,” said Donaldson. “Then the fact that Senator Harris points out at the very beginning the greatest failure of the Trump administration has been the handling of the COVID-19 crisis.”

Donaldson said she can’t understand how anyone can remain an undecided voter. 

“If you watched that debate… one side has a plan, that is going to be different than what is already happening right now,” said Donaldson. “Because what we have going on right now isn’t working. It’s very obvious. One side is going to try to change the hemorrhaging and loss of life. The other thinks they’re doing a great job. ”

Sen. Harris referenced the pandemic and its victims several times but opened by reminding Americans that the president knew of the pandemic on Jan. 28. Dr. George White, Historian and York College’s Interim Dean of Arts & Sciences, said a couple more takeaways should stand out about this point.

“Kamala Harris skillfully focused on the president’s leadership or lack thereof, by constantly talking about the pandemic and the administration’s response,” said White. “I thought that was a very powerful and persuasive statement to the incompetence of the current administration… their willingness to sacrifice other people’s lives to make themselves look good.”

Mike Pence ended the debate as he began, praising his party and attacking Joe Biden. Pence did not propose new agendas, mandates, or data outside of his opposition research. When asked about how Americans can trust the administration’s guidelines after this lack of response to the pandemic, Pence said that he and the president had “great confidence in the American people and their ability to take that information and put it into practice.” 

When further questioned about the “super spreader” event at the Rose Garden nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Pence answered that the administration is about “freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people.”

Kamala Harris made a point of calling out this ineptitude and recklessness, exclaiming that respect for the American people comes from telling them the truth, and “when you have the courage to be a leader.”

Following the debate, the polling gap has increased in favor of Biden and Harris. It is hard not to attribute this to Kamala Harris’ dominance. Calla Bellis said that Harris was the clear winner.

“Kamala didn’t answer two or three questions, whereas Pence didn’t answer any of them,” said Bellis. “The biggest takeaway for me was Kamala Harris and the way she was just owning it. When Pence was interrupting her she was like ‘I’m speaking’, but with a smile on her face. I was on the fence, but why would I waste my Vote when Kamala Harris is killing it.”

Bellis said that she was originally “on the fence” about the Biden-Harris ticket, but reconsidered this after watching Harris’ performance on the debate stage. However, not everyone who saw the debates was immediately sold.

Bronx resident and Hunter College 2019 graduate Akeem Frett, said that personally, none of the topics really stood out as directly answered.

“Just like how Republicans do what they want within the breath of the rules — they can’t then tell another party how they’re supposed to comply,” said Frett on the topic of packing the Supreme Court, a talking point that went under scrutiny when Kamala “dodged” giving a direct answer.

Like some who found the debate full of pointless rhetoric, Frett’s opinion of the candidates did not change.

“It was all more of the same,” said Frett. “There were some interesting things that were said. Personal or not, show what the facts are. And Pence was, ironically, the one to say you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts — the party of ‘alternative facts’.”

White said that the lack of facts is just part of how the administration operates. 

  “What the Trump administration has consistently done and what Mike Pence continued to do was, in that debate, was just lie,” said White.

A candidate’s goal is to make an impact from the presidential and vice presidential in the polls. When it comes to the election results this November, these debates left White cautiously optimistic.

“I’m not so much worried about the polls being wrong. I think the majority of people have finally soured on this administration,” he said.

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