The two have not provided direct answers on whether they have discussed the transfer of power with senior officials – two men vying to be the oldest elected president ever, in the midst of a pandemic.
Harris, known for her blunt questioning of Trump candidates at the Senate Committee hearings, has often played a safe role – keenly aware of the racial and gender dynamics that exist as the first women of black and South Asian descent to participate in the general election debate. However, she responded by shooting Pence when he spoke over her.
In general, the debate was ultimately about Trump, with Harris providing a scathing criticism of the administration’s record in the pandemic and Pence defending the president at every turn.
Here are five notes from the Vice President’s debate:
World of Alternative Pence
If Pence isn’t quite known for providing candid answers to questions in interviews or press conferences, avoiding him to answer questions from USA Today’s curator Susan Page on Wednesday appears to have reached new levels of elusiveness.
In moments he seemed to be discussing on a different planet, providing answers to the questions he wanted to answer rather than the questions asked. When asked about presidential health, Pence responded about swine flu. When asked about the Supreme Court, Pence responded about the top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. When asked about protecting health coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, Harris lashed out for packing in court.
“Stop playing politics with people’s lives” is a phrase you likely expected during this year’s discussion – it just doesn’t come from someone who works with Trump. However, Pence made the accusation, saying that Harris undermines confidence in a final coronavirus vaccine by saying it will not take it unless it is approved by public health experts.
“The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in the vaccine, if a vaccine comes out during the Trump administration, I think is unreasonable,” Pence said. Senator, I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives.
His attack appeared to ignore Trump’s repeated efforts to explicitly introduce policy into the pandemic, including efforts to develop a vaccine.
He also told Harris that she was not entitled to know her own facts, despite the Trump administration’s weak relationship with the facts.
Harris plays it safe
Harris opened the night with a swift condemnation of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, stating that nearly 210,000 people have died and more than 7.5 million have fallen ill.
“The American people have witnessed the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said, noting that front-line workers were treated like “sacrificial workers” and that Trump had repeatedly underestimated the severity of the virus, while discouraging people from wearing masks.
Harris played a safe for much of Wednesday night – a tactic available to the ticket that polls showed he was leading by double figures nationally and advancing in every crucial swing. A source close to the campaign told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Harris “went to it aware of the different dynamics and to strike a balance between being assertive and letting it run wild at certain points. Time and of course she was the only woman and the only black woman in many places.”
But it has described the Trump administration as incompetent on what may be the only significant issue in the 2020 elections.
“You respect the American people when you tell them the truth. You respect the American people when you have the courage to be a leader, and you talk about those things that you might not want people to hear, but they need to hear so they can protect themselves. But this administration has stood up to the information that you have It says that if you have as a parent or a worker, if you do not have enough money saved, you are standing in the food line because of incompetence. ” They have had to sacrifice a lot due to the inefficiency of this administration.
No answers to health, transfer of power
For the vice-president’s candidates competing alongside the oldest presidential candidates in history, it seems like a natural and important question: Did you discuss the transfer of power in the event of the president impeding?
If their answers are any evidence, it doesn’t look like it. Neither Pence nor Harris wanted to go there. Instead, they each provided a response unrelated to the issue and they ran out of time.
For Pence, the issue is delicate. Trump is extremely cautious about his health and his sense of insinuation that he’s unfit for the job. Over the weekend, when Trump was hospitalized with the coronavirus, he was upset as he watched speculation on TV about whether he would transfer power to a penny, according to people familiar with the matter.
Instead of providing any information about his conversations with Trump on the issue, Pence provided a complete answer to the 2009 swine flu outbreak, using all of his time.
Later, after pressing whether the president should be transparent about his health, Pence quickly turned to express thanks on behalf of Trump for the influx of support during his shift with Covid.
Harris also seemed aware of the answer to a question that could be interpreted as a tacit admission that her running mate might not have done it for four years. Instead of providing a complete answer about whether the president owes Americans transparency about their health, it has resorted to attacking Trump – not to disclose his tax returns.
The answers may not have come as a surprise. Health is a sensitive and personal issue, and whether the candidates like it or not, it informs them of the voters’ decisions.
But their lack of answers is unsatisfactory for Americans who want to know that plans are ready in the event that the oldest president in history – which would be true for any of the candidates if he wins – becomes ill or incapacitated.
Harris Ducks Pines packing question in court
In the second debate in a row, Republicans pushed their Democratic rivals to address whether they would embrace the progressives’ bid to add seats to the Supreme Court. Once again, the Democrats fled.
Pence ignored the question of how the Trump administration would protect those with pre-existing conditions if its call to end Obama’s protections succeeds, rather than raising the issue of court seats. He asked whether the Biden administration would seek to add seats to the Supreme Court if the Trump administration pushed for the nomination of Judge Amy Connie Barrett to replace former judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“This is a classic case,” Pence said, “If you can’t win the rules, you’ll change the rules,” heading to Harris and asking directly if she and Biden would “pack the Supreme Court” Get your way?
Harris did not respond directly, instead saying that the Senate should not proceed with confirming Connie Barrett.
“Joe and I are very clear: The American people are voting now. Their decision about who will work on (the court) should be … for life,” she said.
Pence replied, “I gave an unanswered answer. Joe Biden gave an unanswered answer. The American people deserve a straight answer, and if you haven’t understood it yet, the direct answer is they’ll pack the Supreme Court.”
Biden and Harris widely avoided procedural questions about how to overcome Republican obstinacy in Congress. Progressives are outraged that the Republican Party is pushing ahead with the Supreme Court nomination now that it has been postponed for the last eleven months of former President Barack Obama’s term. And they have insisted that ending the Senate threshold of 60 votes to break the disruption is the only way to enact major Democratic politics.
The Democratic card was willing to take occasional punches from Republicans on these questions to avoid sparking entire news cycles about their answers so far. It is not clear if this strategy will be sustainable.
Plexiglass serves as a reminder of Covid
Harris may have won the debate before she and Pence took their seats Wednesday night in Utah.
The glass partitions erected by the Presidential Debate Committee were a visual reminder of the Coronavirus pandemic that has changed nearly every aspect of American life. And every time Harris and Pence appeared in a single camera shot, the barriers were visible.
Political observers said the debate likely did little to change the vote of Americans – and while both candidates may have presented lines that could be turned into short clips for advertisements, neither of them said anything surprising.
On social media, what caused an uproar more than anything any of the candidates did was a fly that landed on the hair of a penny.