South Ogden, Utah — While much calmer than last week’s presidential debate, the first and only vice-presidential debate had its own tokens: plexiglass barriers, deemed “boring,” dodging many of the moderator's questions and more catchy one-liners.
On Wednesday night at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City with Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, USA TODAY’s Susan Page moderated what seemed like a civil, calm and collected debate.
Important topics were covered, though, and there were some show-stoppers, that’s for sure. Perhaps one of the most jaw-dropping being when Pence responded to a question posed about whether justice was served for Breonna Taylor.
He said he "trusts our justice system" and that “this presumption that you hear consistently from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris that America is systematically racist ... it’s a great insult to the men and women who served in law enforcement.” This follows Trump's refusal to denounce white supremacy.
Harris had more than a disapproving look on her face, refuting that justice hadn’t been served for Taylor or George Floyd, and that while she will never condone violence, “we must always fight for the values that we hold dear, including the fight to achieve our ideals.”
So I guess there were some hot moments in this debate, too. But what else was really said? Here are our key takeaways from Wednesday's debate.
Thoughts and prayers for COVID-19
With Trump, the first lady and several others recently testing positive for the coronavirus, naturally, the first question was how a Biden-Harris administration would handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said. “And they knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you.” In comparison, she says Biden would create a national strategy for contact tracing, testing and administering an eventual vaccine.
Pence clapped back saying, “The reality is, when you look at the Biden plan, it reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way.”
But a follow-up question about the recent clusters of COVID cases from the now infamous White House Rose Garden event was the real kicker: “How can you expect Americans to follow the administration’s safety guidelines to protect themselves from COVID when you at the White House have not been doing so?” Page asked.
Pence’s response? “President Trump and I have great confidence in the American people and their ability to take that information and put it into practice.”
Who needs a moderator when you can just talk about whatever you want?
Perhaps the silver lining of this debate was that viewers actually got some policy stances out of the candidates rather than incomprehensible jabber. But this go-round, the candidates seldom responded to the questions being asked.
Page’s question to each candidate about safety procedures and protocols for the vice president in the event of presidential disability? Pence’s answer was about the finalization of a vaccine as well as the “failure” of the Obama-Biden administration during the 2009 swine flu. Harris’ answer was about her excitement when Biden asked her to be his running mate as well as her record-setting thus far.
And just like last week’s moderator, Page had to remind the candidates along the way that she didn’t create the debate rules but was there to enforce them. While the interruptions were fewer and shorter than last week’s, they were just as vibrant in candor. A couple of mansplaining interruptions later, Harris finally said, “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.”
The climate is changing but …
With record-setting hurricanes in the south and wildfires in the west, Pence’s advice reinforced Trump’s claims from last week that forest management “has to be front and center … with regard to hurricanes, the national oceanic administration tells us that actually there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago.”
Is that supposed to be comforting?
On the other hand, Harris tried to set the record straight that Biden would not ban fracking, “that is a fact,” she said. Instead, she said the Biden-Harris administration would invest in clean energy, renewable energy and infrastructure markets.
“There was a time when our country believed in science and invested in research and development, so that we were an innovation leader of the globe,” Harris remarked.
The fate of Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court
Yes, Trump is trying to get yet another justice confirmed to the United States Supreme Court. Interestingly, Page asked both how they would want their states — Indiana and California, respectively — to respond if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
While Pence didn’t immediately answer, he eventually said “I am pro-life. I don’t apologize for it” and that it was his hope "to see Judge Amy Coney Barrett become Justice Amy Coney Barrett.” Pence also posed the question to Harris on whether the Biden-Harris administration would attempt to pack the court.
While Harris didn’t directly answer Pence’s question, she did acknowledge (just as Biden did) that depriving the people of their ability to vote for who will choose the next Supreme Court justice was wrong. “There is the issue of choice and I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body,” Harris added.
Somewhat addressing the questions by this point was all we could ask for.
So … does the fly need to quarantine?
Okay maybe not a key takeaway but definitely a moment worth mentioning! While millions of viewers watched both trade barbs, there was only one thing they wondered: Pence, do you feel that fly on your head?
For a whole two minutes, it caught everyone’s attention and sensationalized the Internet.
Shortly after the debate, another concern began circulating: Pence’s apparent reddish-colored eye? Some speculated he has pink eye. WebMD lists pink eye as a symptom of COVID-19 and if that’s the case, what is the fate of our little fly friend who clearly isn't into social distancing?