The vice presidential debate: Harris and Pence face-off with more civil discourse

We summarized the issues that were discussed by Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris at tonight’s vice presidential election. Our summary is followed by three staff members’ commentary on what went down. (Note that this commentary does not reflect the opinions of The Talon as a whole.)


History in HD via Unsplash

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Tonight was the vice presidential debate between Pence and Senator Kamala Harris.


The debate opened with a topic on everyone’s mind: the ongoing pandemic. Both candidates remained fairly calm and collected, a contrast from last week’s presidential debate. Harris pointed out what she called the shortcomings in the Trump administration’s pandemic response, while Pence countered by arguing that Biden’s plan is a copy of Trump’s. Pence continued his argument by mentioning how Biden did not support shutting off travel to China in January.

Over the remainder of the discussion, Harris continued to attack Trump’s handling of the pandemic, citing rampant unemployment and the financial difficulties currently faced by many families as proof of his failure. Pence countered by saying that the Democratic Party’s response is overly paranoid, which he called an attempt to reduce public trust in a potential vaccine.

Safeguards for Presidential Disability

After being asked what she would do if a president became unable to carry out their duties,  Harris spoke at length about her background as the first woman of color to be nominated for the vice presidency. Eventually, both Pence and Harris expressed their concern for Trump’s health before shifting to the issue of Trump’s recently released tax statements. Harris attacked the president’s avoidance of taxes, while Pence questioned the truthfulness of the reports, saying that Trump had paid tens of millions of dollars in taxes during his lifetime and created thousands of jobs.


Harris attacked the Trump administration’s policy of using the stock market as a measure of economic success, arguing that it ignores poorer Americans. Pence argued that Trump’s tax cuts have benefited all Americans, repeatedly claiming that the average American family had seen a $2,000 decline in taxes. Pence then attacked the Biden plan to repeal Trump’s tax cuts on the wealthy and ban fossil fuels. Harris countered by saying that Pence was mischaracterizing Biden’s plans, promising that he would not increase taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 a year.


On this topic, Pence argued for maintaining the status quo on climate issues. He defended Trump’s renunciation of the Paris Agreement, saying that the United States has lowered carbon dioxide emissions more than many signatory nations of the Paris Climate Accords. Pence then claimed that a Biden administration would ban natural gases and fracking, devastating American jobs.

Harris hit back at Pence, claiming that President Trump has ignored science. She pointed out that the Trump administration had removed the words “science” and “climate change” from its website and reassured viewers that a Biden administration would not ban fracking.

When asked if he believed that climate change posed an existential threat to Americans, Pence reaffirmed the importance of natural gases and fracking to the American economy. Pence then attacked Harris for supporting policies similar to those in the Green New Deal. The Biden administration’s stance on the Green New Deal remains unclear.


This section began when Pence was asked about the nature of our country’s relationship with China. Pence attacked Harris’s past opposition to the United States–Mexico–Canada economic agreement, portraying it as a win for American workers. Pence then repeated Trump’s claim that China was responsible for spreading the coronavirus throughout the world. He continued by attacking China’s economic policies that have come at the expense of American workers.

Harris agreed with Pence that China’s policies have had a negative effect on the United States. She accused the Trump administration of not doing enough to stand up China, citing a Pew analysis showing that American allies respect Xi Jinping more than Donald Trump. Harris also said that Trump has “disgraced” the United States by showing more respect for dictators like Vladimir Putin than its allies in Europe. Pence defended Trump’s foreign policy by pointing to new trade agreements and the defeat of ISIS.


Pence opened by expressing the enthusiasm he and Trump have for Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Pence said that Harris and Biden have attacked judicial nominees for their religion, skirting around the original question about dealing with the topic of abortion on the Supreme Court. Harris countered by emphasizing the importance of the Supreme Court nomination going to the winner of the election. She brought up a number of issues on which she said that she said Amy Coney Barrett would go against the will of the American people, including healthcare and abortion.

Pence touted his pro-life views, attacking Harris for supporting comprehensive abortion rights. He then questioned whether or not a Biden administration would pack the Supreme Court if the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett went through. Harris responded by attacking Trump’s appointment of ideology-motivated judges to federal courts.


Harris expressed her belief that justice had not been done for the killing of Breonna Taylor in March. She showed support for nonviolent protesters and argued for criminal justice reform. Pence said that justice had been done in the case of Breonna Taylor, putting support behind the grand jury’s decision to charge one of the officers involved with wanton endangerment. Pence then attacked the violent protesters and rioters that went to the streets during the racial justice protests.

Harris then attacked Trump’s past controversial comments about race, including his apparent show of support for the Proud Boys and refusal to condemn white supremacy during last week’s presidential debate. Pence countered by saying that Trump has indeed condemned white supremacists and other hate groups.


After being asked what she would do if Biden won the election and Trump refused to concede, Harris promised that Biden would have bipartisan support in affirming the results of the election. She said that Trump has been disregarding democracy and encouraging voter suppression. Pence did not acknowledge the possibility of Trump losing the election and attacked Harris for the Democratic Party’s efforts to investigate potential collusion with Russia by the Trump administration during the 2016 election.

The debate closed with a question from a Utah eighth-grader about political division in America. Pence and Harris both gave statements exuding optimism for a unified America.

Summary by Nathaniel Joffe



I had higher expectations for this debate than last week. After all, Pence is a much more experienced politician than Trump, and Harris is notorious for being one of the most hard-hitting prosecutors of all time. When we consider this debate, though, we need to realize Pence has an actual chance of being our president.

But Pence did not set himself up for that. Instead, he used Trump as his shield. While Kamala used her own accomplishments to build her case, Pence simply used Trump’s last four years and his legacy as a businessman as a response to the deaths he has left in his wake from COVID-19 to race.

The first interesting topic of the night was climate, when we got to hear some true stupidity. Pence continually emphasized the importance of the economy, since his only real response to the Biden climate plan was that it would “cripple the economy,” and he’s already solving the issue. But when we consider how Trump has rolled back hundreds of EPA regulations, he isn’t solving the issue. He’s reversing everything that had the chance of solving anything. So while I’m more of a Green New Deal than a Biden plan gal, I have to say that something will always be better than nothing. When Pence responded with arguments about taxes and fracking, all he’s shown me is that he does not care about climate change.

While climate always takes my heart as the best topic, the best Pence line of the night has to be when he called Biden a “cheerleader for communist China,” something flagrantly untrue and honestly hilarious, since Biden doesn’t even support universal health care. Pence blames China for the deaths that squarely fall on the shoulders of Trump and his administration. Pence himself was the head of the task force and decided to pin the blame of his own actions on the Chinese government and WHO.

Later in the debate, the Supreme Court became a massive issue. I stand on the side of Biden-Harris when I say Trump should not and cannot appoint a judge to SCOTUS because it’s completely unfair. But this became so much more important to me when Pence called himself pro-life and decided to shame Biden and Harris for supporting a person’s right to choose what they do with their own body. Pence looks a woman in the eyes and tells her she doesn’t have the right to choose what happens to her. Sad!

As the topic transitioned to racial justice, Pence decided Breonna Taylor’s life does not matter. When no one is prosecuted, when no one actually faces punishment for murder, that is not justice. He instead blames the people who protest, saying that hurting property is so much worse than killing an innocent woman. Then, Pence said the system is fine — that saying the system has implicit biases is in fact offensive to the system. I don’t care what offends the system. The system is built to destroy people of color, and Pence simply allows it to happen.

At the end of the day, all these debates just suck. Questions are often deflected and truths are often bent. I don’t really know what these debates are for sometimes. From my perspective, they just entrench views instead of informing. But they really do matter because they serve as a reminder. What do these people stand for? And who deserves the vote?


As this debate began, many were reminded of a time that feels so long ago — pre-Trump America. Of a time when political discussions were not ferocious battles between good and evil. While the debate went on, we were painfully reminded of the issues at hand: a deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, a looming climate crisis and too many more.

Although all of these issues were discussed, I could only think of one: how we got to this point, and where we go from here as a nation. Tonight we saw two pictures of America. 

One of those visions, presented by Pence, with an insect atop his cranium, was full of alternative facts and wishful thinking, portraying an America that Donald Trump’s campaign promised to return to but in reality, never existed. To “Make America great again.” To have an America with a booming economy, unity and a strong global presence. Today’s America is a stark contrast to what Trump and his campaign would like to believe it is. We face record-high unemployment, citizens more divided than ever and as Harris brought up, many nations respect Chinese communist dictator Xi Jinping more than our president Donald Trump, according to Pew Research.

Another vision, presented by Kamala Harris, was one that made me have just a bit of optimism for my future. Harris presented an America in which truth rules over lies, unity over division. She echoed the inner thoughts of many virtual audience members, laughing at her opponent and throwing the occasional judgemental stare. This vision of America, although incomplete, fills me with hope. 

This America is one led by someone who listens to science and facts. It disturbs me that we must actively seek these qualities out in a leader. It was once commonplace our leader would present our nation with truth, respect their constituents and listen to science.

Today, the status quo is far from what used to be. Today every rational American must take what the government tells them with a grain of salt. They must question everything they are told. 

If today’s debate taught me anything, it’s this: Our country may not survive another Trump term. The man who may replace him in the event of his untimely demise denies facts, denies women the control of their own bodies and refuses to believe science. That leadership is not the one we want to reconstruct our post-COVID-19 economy or to lead us to a safe vaccine. That leadership is one that no longer has a place on this earth.


Right off the bat, it was clear that this debate would be far more traditional than last week’s presidential debate, as per expectations. Both Pence and Harris have held public office for years. And, like what you’d expect from a traditional debate, there was no clear winner on almost every key issue. 

The coronavirus issue left no clear winner — Harris was able to call out Pence on the current administration’s inadequate response to the virus, while Pence drew attention to Biden’s opposition of a travel ban from China. Both their responses left a sour taste in my mouth — I was expecting actual policy, not just pointing fingers.

On the topic of Trump’s health, Pence claimed that he is grateful for the outpouring of support from both sides of the political aisle after Trump’s diagnosis. I was quite pleasantly surprised by this rare moment of civility and bipartisanship. 

The topic of the economy and taxation, I was less pleased with. Pence repeatedly claimed Biden will ban fracking and increase taxes for all, which is completely false. Harris claimed that the facts show the Trump economy was only good because of the Obama economy, proceeded to cite no facts and ignored that Trump made drastic changes to economic policy within his first year in office. An interesting spat to watch, sure, but the utter lack of facts was disappointing. 

Harris was the clear winner on climate change, calling out the Trump administration’s inadequate climate regulation and response. Pence, for his part, was able to defend the current administration’s missteps remarkably well, considering how awfully they’ve treated the environment. 

When the conversation shifted to the Supreme Court, both sides spouted their usual rhetoric in an extremely uninteresting conversation. Pence did score points when Harris refused to admit that she would not pack the court if Biden was elected. 

Pence did little more than pay lip service to Breonna Taylor, choosing to shift the topic toward violent protests instead. Harris, for her part, refused to acknowledge both her controversial past as a prosecutor and violence in recent protests. 

This debate is almost evidence as to why the last debate was the way it was. It was astonishingly uninteresting, and at times I struggled to not tab-out while watching it for coverage. Harris scored points over Trump’s attack on those with pre-existing conditions, while Pence did a remarkable job of defending his party’s seeming missteps in an adequate way and calling Harris out on court-packing, but overall there was no clear winner.