Americas, US Elections 2020

Pence, Harris trade barbs in comparatively civil debate

Political showdown markedly more civil than first presidential debate, but not without blistering critiques

Michael Gabriel Hernandez   | 08.10.2020
Pence, Harris trade barbs in comparatively civil debate


US Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Kamala Harris sparred Wednesday evening in what was a markedly more civil showdown than last week's first presidential debate. 

The candidates largely refrained from the chaotic interruptions that were the hallmark of the first political match-up when President Donald Trump repeatedly spoke over and interrupted Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The former vice president also engaged in such antics, but to a far lesser extent.

Though the vice presidential debate was more civil, it was not without its moments of blistering critiques.

Early on, Harris charged that the Trump administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country."

"This administration has forfeited their right to re-election based on this,” she said, maintaining that the president and his team knew about the virus' severity but "covered it up."

She was alluding to remarks the president made during an interview with journalist Bob Woodward in which Trump acknowledged that the novel coronavirus is "deadly stuff" even as he publicly sought to tell the American people it was in line with the common flu. Trump has defended the comments, saying he was trying to tamp down public alarm.

The US continues to experience the world's worst novel coronavirus outbreak with over 7.5 million confirmed cases and more than 211,000 deaths. 

Pence sought to defend the administration's record, saying it had engaged in the "greatest mobilization since World War II,” pointing in particular to efforts to develop a vaccine and distributing protective gear for front-line workers that was incredibly scarce early on in the US outbreak.

Harris said she would not take a vaccine endorsed by Trump unless it also had the backing of public health professionals. But Pence accused her of seeking to erode the public's trust in a vaccine the administration is seeking to roll out by the end of the year. 

“The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine, if the vaccine emerges in the Trump administration, I think is unconscionable," Pence said. "Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

Turning to foreign policy, Harris pointed to Trump's repeated distancing of the US's traditional allies, particularly those in Europe and Canada, saying the president has "betrayed our friends, and embraced dictators around the world."

Making particular mention of Trump's 2018 decision to withdraw the US from the nuclear accord world powers struck with Iran, she said the US is now "less safe" because Tehran is now "building up what might end up being a significant nuclear arsenal."

"Because of Donald Trump’s unilateral approach to foreign policy, coupled with his isolationism, he pulled us out and has made America less safe," she said. "It’s about relationships, and the thing that has always been part of the strength of our nation, in addition to our great military, has been that we keep our word. But Donald Trump doesn’t understand that, because he doesn’t understand what it means to be honest."

Pence, however, touted Trump's handling of global affairs while accusing Biden of being a "cheerleader for communist China."

“We’ve stood strong with our allies, but we’ve been demanding. NATO now is committing more to its common defense than ever before thanks to President Trump’s leadership, and we stood strong against those who would do us harm,” he said.

The debate comes as Biden and Harris hold a growing lead over the White House incumbents. 

A Fox News poll released just hours before the vice presidential debate showed Biden enjoying a daunting 10-point lead over the US president. 

Asked about Trump's ongoing refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event that he loses the Nov. 3 election, Pence sidestepped the question, instead maintaining that he believes Trump will emerge victorious. 

"If we have a free and fair election, we know we’re going to have confidence in it, and I believe in all my heart that President Donald Trump is going to be re-elected for four more years," he said. 

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