Recap of the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate

Emily Beaman, Reporter

The first 2020 Vice Presidential debate was held on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Susan Page from USA Today was the moderator, and the rules were the same as the Presidential debate held last week on September 29. Each candidate would have two uninterrupted minutes to respond to questions followed by a six minute debate.

The participants were Kamala Harris, the VP choice for Joe Biden’s campaign, and Mike Pence, the incumbent for Donald Trump’s campaign.

After an outbreak of COVID-19 infected White House staff members, including President Trump, extra precautions were ensured to ensure the safety of all people present. Sheets of plexiglass separated the vice presidential candidates, the candidates and moderator were at least 12 feet apart instead of just seven and all attendees were required to wear masks as long as they were in the building.


The first topic of the night was over the Coronavirus Pandemic. 

In her first answer of the night, Harris called the Trump administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic the “greatest failure of any presidential administration” in the country’s history. 

Pence responded by affirming the idea that Trump has put America’s health first since day one of the outbreak. In what he referred to as “Operation: Warpspeed,” he promised vaccines by the end of the year under Trump’s administration. Following this, Pence claimed that the Biden plan to combat COVID-19 looks like “plagiarism” of the Trump plan.

Then, regarding the recent outbreak among Trump and some of his staff after the Rose Garden ceremony, Pence was asked how he can expect American citizens to follow safety guidelines if the White House won’t. He responded by reaffirming that Trump has put America’s health first and then deflected to what Biden and Harris would do under their campaign if elected.


The second topic was concerning the health of both vice president and presidential candidates.

Both candidates were asked if they had discussed safeguards if the elected president was unable to continue his term due to health, and if they believed voters deserve to know the health of the presidential candidates.

Pence told Harris to “stop playing politics with people’s lives” and attacked the Obama/Biden administration for their response to the 2009 swine flu outbreak. He then sent his thanks for the prayers and concerns for the president at this time and then congratulated Biden and Harris for their accomplishments.

In her response, Harris answered that Biden has been completely transparent “across the board”, including his taxes. Briefly, she expressed her disbelief at Trump’s tax payments over the past twenty years, which Pence called “not accurate.”


The third topic of the night was over the economy. Page reported that unemployment had fallen to 7.9% in Sept., but job growth had stalled ,and 11 million jobs have still not been replaced.

Harris said that Biden measures the health and strength of the American economy by the strength and health of the American people while Trump measures the economy based on how rich people are doing. She continued to promote her economic plan that would repeal Trump’s tax bill and invest in infrastructure, clean energy, innovation and education instead. She said that Biden’s plan won’t raise taxes on anybody making under $400,000 per year and won’t ban fracking, an idea that many viewers have since criticized in both parties. She finished by telling the people watching that “[the Trump administration is] coming for you”.

Pence said that when Trump inherited the slowest economic recovery in 2016, he cut taxes across the board, and even said the average household income increased by $4,000. He moved to statistics about the economy and job market since the pandemic, saying his administration has “literally spared no expense” to help the American people. Pence briefly responded by telling Harris, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” and then told watchers to vote for Trump to, “Keep America growing”.


The fourth topic was about climate change.

Pence said that under Trump’s administration, the air, land and water has been cleaner than ever before in history. “The climate is changing,” he said, “and we will continue to listen to science.” He attacked Biden’s plans to tackle climate change by saying Biden/Harris are committed to abolish fracking and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. 

Harris stated it was a “fact” that the Biden campaign would not ban fracking. She attacked the Trump administration for taking “science” and “climate change” off of their website, saying Trump before has stated “science doesn’t know” about climate change. Then, Harris attacked the Trump’s administration’s “loss” in the US-China trade war, which led to the loss of 300,000 jobs and farmer bankruptcy.

Pence restated that Trump will put “America first, jobs first, and follow the science.” Finally, he stood by the idea that Trump had the guts to push back against China, unlike Joe who he claimed has been “a cheerleader for communism”.


The fifth segment was segued into aforementioned China.

Pence talked about how the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was harmful toward America, and how the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) has been better for farmers and America as a whole. He then revisited the stance that China was to blame for COVID-19, and that Trump standing up to China was the right path.

Harris’s response said that Trump’s relationship with China led to the loss of American lives, jobs and standing in the world stage. She said that Trump has “a weird obsession” with getting rid of accomplishments from the Obama/Biden administration, particularly attacking Trump’s decision to remove the pandemic monitoring team and pulling disease experts stationed in Wuhan. 


Harris began defining American leadership in 2020, and quoted an article from Pew Research, stating that ally leaders have admitted to having more respect for Xi Jinping than President Trump. She said the basis of foreign policy is relations, and Trump has “betrayed friends and embraced dictators” and “doesn’t understand being honest.”

Pence said that Trump’s administration has made strides on the international stage. The American Embassy moved to Jerusalem and the destruction of the ISIS caliphate without one American casualty, which Pence pointed out Joe Biden did not accomplish as vice president.

Both candidates reflected on the tragedy of Kayla Mueller and sent their sorrow to her family. 


The sixth topic was over the Supreme Court, where Harris is one of the senators selected to be on the committee for the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett.

Pence said he hoped Barrett would receive “fair treatment” unlike Brett Kavanaugh, and that there should be no attack on her devout Christian faith.

Harris stated that with 27 days until the election, the White House should be filled and then the Supreme Court. Regarding Roe v. Wade, she said it should be a women’s choice what to do with her body, not Trump or Pence’s, and reaffirmed her campaign’s stance as pro-choice.

In response, Pence attacked the pro-choice stance of Biden and Harris’s campaign, saying he was proud to protect the “right to life” and the sanctity of human life. Pence then turned to Harris and asked her if the Biden administration’s plan was to pack the court if Barrett is confirmed, a question Harris did not directly answer.


The eighth topic regarded racial justice today.

The first question to both candidates regarded if justice was served for Breonna Taylor. 

Harris responded with “no” and recounted the protests and marches across the country in response to Taylor and George Floyd. She said that while she would never condone violence, it’s essential to “fight for the values [and ideals] we hold dear.” Biden plans to outlaw chokeholds, implement a national registry for police who attack civilians, get rid of private prisons and cash bail and decriminalize marijuana possession. 

Pence said that his administration’s “hearts ache,” but he trusts the justice system. He criticized Harris, saying he thinks there is no excuse for rioting and looting, and the idea that Biden believes America is systematically racist is an “insult to law enforcement,” telling law enforcement that “[we] stand with you.” Pence then attacked Harris’s past as a prosecutor, noting cases that contradict her stance as a vice presidential candidate. 


The final topic was over the upcoming presidential election.

Harris said she was proud of the coalition of their campaign. “Biden has a deep seated commitment to fighting for our democracy,” she said, and wants to bring integrity back to the White House. She repeated the Biden campaign’s push to get out and vote, and prompted the American people to not let anybody “subvert our democracy.”

Pence confidently said, “We will win.” He attacked democratic party attempts to change election rules and said he looks forward to seeing the next four years of American ideals flourishing under a Trump reelection. 

The last question of the night came from Brecklynn Brown, an 8th grader, who asked how can the candidates expect the American people to get along if the leaders can’t. 

Pence explained what he saw as a “free and open debate exchange” in the “most free and prosperous nation.” He gave the example of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonio Scalia who were complete opposites but very close friends. Even after vigorous disagreements, “we come together as Americans after,” he said.

Harris promoted the idea of Biden’s past working across the aisle as an idea of bipartisanship. She focused on on the voices of American people saying, “You have the ability to determine the future of our country.”

The next debate is scheduled on Oct. 15 in a virtual town hall style where attendees ask questions to the presidential candidates.