Vice Presidential Debate Recap

Everything you need to know about the first (and only) Vice Presidential Debate


Jonah Kim

Kamala Harris and Mike Pence take the stage to debate.

On Wednesday, October 8, 2020, Senator Kamala Harris (D) and Vice President Mike Pence (R), took the stage at the University of Utah to face each other in the first, and only, Vice Presidential Debate. Susan Page, the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, moderated Wednesday’s debate which concluded after ninety minutes.

Wednesday’s debate consisted of nine ten-minute segments about various topics. Harris and Pence sat twelve feet apart separated by a plexiglass screen to remedy any concerns about safety after it was announced that President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, October 2. 

We wanted to use a chart to organize each candidate’s response to the questions, but this debate was more notable for the way each avoided specifically answering the questions. Instead, here are the highlights of their responses:

Handling the COVID-19 Pandemic

Page began the debate by asking Harris what the Biden administration would do differently than the Trump administration did in January and February when it came to combatting the pandemic. Harris said the Biden Administration has a clear plan which includes contact tracing and the administration of a free vaccine. She claimed that the Trump administration still does not have a clear plan for combating the ongoing pandemic.

Pence did not answer why the US coronavirus death toll is almost higher than every other wealthy country, but he did state that Trump did something no other president had done. He suspended all travel from China when there were only five cases in the US. Pence said that Joe Biden was opposed to this suspension because he thought it was xenophobic.

Pence referenced Operation Warp Speed, and claimed they will have tens of millions of doses of the vaccine ready by the end of this year. When rebutting Harris’s claim that the Trump administration did not have a plan for the pandemic, Pence accused Biden’s plan of plagiarism, referencing the former Vice President’s 1987 plagiarism scandal.

Pence also believes that the Trump administration was much more effective in its control of the COVID-19 pandemic in comparison to the Obama administration control of the Swine Flu Epidemic. Pence said that if the Swine Flu was as deadly as COVID in 2009, two million Americans would have been lost, so the Trump administration has learned from their “empty plan”.

Safety guidelines

When Page asked Pence why the White House did not follow the same procedures and precautions that they expected Americans to, referencing Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination event, the Vice President said that they did indeed take precautions including having many of those present tested beforehand and making it an outside event. 

Pence said that he and Trump trust the American people in staying safe, while Harris and Biden want to impose mandates and that there should not be a “government takeover of healthcare”.

The Vaccine

Although Pence believes that the vaccine will be ready before the end of the year, Harris said she would not take one unless it was approved by doctors and scientists. In that case, she stated, she’d be the “first one in line”. Pence responded by asking her to stop undermining trust in a vaccine, and that it will surely be safe.

Presidential disability

If elected, Trump or Biden will be the oldest president to ever serve. Because of this fact, Page asked Pence and Harris if they had discussed a presidential disability plan. Although both candidates did not directly answer the question, Harris later stated that voters should know the presidential candidates’ health information to maintain transparency, and Pence did second that.


When asked whether or not Harris and Biden’s plan to raise taxes put recovery at risk, Harris emphasized that Joe Biden will repeal the Trump tax cuts, and invest in infrastructure by upgrading roads and bridges, investing in clean and new renewable energy, and investing in research and development. 

However, Pence criticized how Biden wanted us to retrofit four million American business buildings which would cost jobs. He stated that Trump will put jobs first and protect the environment. Pence argued that during the Biden/Obama administration, America lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs that Obama claimed were never coming back. 

Nevertheless, Pence claimed that during the first three years of the Trump administration, he cut taxes, rolled back regulation, and released American energy which created 500,000 jobs. Harris noted that the country lost the trade war with China which cost 300,000 American manufacturing jobs. As a result, farmers had to file for bankruptcy, and by the end of Trump’s term, America is estimated to lose more jobs than any other presidential administration. 

Relationship with China

Pence believes that China is to blame for the coronavirus outbreak. In fact, he claimed WHO and China did not let people get information on coronavirus until the middle of February. Overall, the Trump administration wants to improve their relationship, but hold them accountable. Harris believes the Trump administration’s relationship with China has resulted in a loss of American jobs.

Supreme Court

Senator Harris and Vice President Pence were both asked what they would want their state to do if Roe. V. Wade is overturned. Pence did not answer the question but he and Trump hope that Justice Amy Coney Barrett is treated with respect during her hearing. Harris made it clear that she and Biden are people of faith, and Joe would be the only second practicing Catholic President. She believes that since voting in the election has already started, the American people should vote for that seat in the White House and Supreme Court. 

Available Health Coverage

Pence highlighted that he is pro-life and said that Biden and Harris support taxpayer funding abortion all the way to the moment of birth. This increases funding for Planned Parenthood. He did not however specify how he would protect people with pre-existing conditions like Trump said he would. 

On the other hand, Harris addressed how over 20 million people will lose their coverage if Trump gets rid of the Affordable Care Act,  meaning Americans under 26 would not be able to stay on their parents’ coverage. Biden wants to expand coverage (give people the choice of public or private), bring down premiums, and lower Medicare eligibility to 60.

The Issue of Race and the Case of Breonna Taylor

Harris believes there was no justice done in the case of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old African American woman who was shot in her home, which sparked protests all over the country. Although she does not condone violence, she believes in the fight for values. If the Biden-Harris ticket were to be elected, they would reform policing and the criminal justice system to ban choke holes and carotid holes. They will also require a national registry for police officers who break the law, get rid of private prisons and cash bail, decriminalize marijuana, and expunge records of those criminalized of marijuana.

Although Pence stated that his “heart breaks for innocent life,” he said that he trusts the criminal justice system and believes that there is no excuse for rioting and looting. Pence pointed out that when Harris was District Attorney in San Francisco and left office, African Americans were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted than Whites and Hispanics. Also, when she was Attorney General, there was increased disproportionate incarceration of African Americans. Nevertheless, Harris believes her work as DA and Attorney General is a model of what the country must do.

Peaceful Transfer of Power

Harris highlighted the fact that Trump has rejected any type of peaceful transfer. However, she did not answer the question specifically. Similarly, rather than answering what his role would be under these circumstances, Pence said the Democratic Party constantly attempted to overturn the last election. He falsely pointed out that the FBI spied on Trump after the election, despite there being no obstruction.