In contrast to the utter chaos of the last presidential debate, the face-off between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris largely took on the feel of a more traditional, civil national political debate.
Without many of the sharp personal attacks and bluster that’s marked much of the presidential campaign, some of the biggest fireworks of the night were over stark policy disagreements. Pence defended the incumbent Trump administration’s record of the past four years while Harris charted what a Biden administration would do differently.
Pence and Harris both may not have answered many of the moderator’s direct questions, but they spent a good deal of time tangling over a range of policy issues. Here are some of the highlights:
Harris kicked off the debate by calling President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” She accused the Trump administration of covering up the true threat of the virus, incompetently responding to it, and continuing to not take health precautions seriously by mocking mask use.
She touted a “national strategy” that former Vice President Biden would embrace if elected, calling for “contact tracing, testing, administration of the vaccine, and making sure that it will be free for all.”
Pence defended the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. He said Biden’s plan wasn’t very different from what the Trump administration had already done, though he noted that the Trump administration opposes mandates. Biden has proposed what he’s called a “national mask mandate.”
Pence also made a specific promise on the development of a covid vaccine, vowing to have “tens of millions of doses of the vaccine before the end of this year.”
Harris said that it would be a “Day One” priority of the Biden administration to repeal the 2017 Republican tax overhaul that Trump signed into law. She listed out the areas where Biden would channel the savings from getting rid of the tax law: funding infrastructure projects; investing in renewable energy and research and development; eliminating tuition at community college for all students and at public universities for families earning up to $125,000; and canceling up $10,000 of debt owed by each student loan borrower.
“It’s about investing in the people of our country as opposed to passing a tax bill which had the benefit of American corporations going offshore to do their business,” Harris said. She said that Biden would not raise taxes on anyone earning under $400,000.
Pence countered that the elimination of Trump’s tax overhaul meant that “on Day One, Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes.” He also defended the administration’s economic record during the pandemic, saying that 11.6 million of the 22 million jobs lost at the height of the pandemic had been restored. He touted rollbacks of federal regulations, Trump’s trade deals and the direct stimulus payments to American families in the CARES Act.
“The V-shaped recovery will continue with four more years of Donald Trump in the White House,” he said.
Harris and Pence sparred over climate policy, fracking and the Green New Deal.
Pence repeatedly accused Biden of pushing the Green New Deal and said Biden would try to abolish fossil fuels and fracking — claims that Harris pushed back on.
Biden has proposed a $2 trillion climate plan over four years, which is not the same.
“Joe Biden will not ban fracking,” she said. She didn’t directly address Biden’s view on the Green New Deal, which he has not fully endorsed, though his website calls it a “crucial framework for meeting climate challenges.”
Harris also slammed the Trump administration’s record on climate change, accusing the administration of being anti-science and failing to address the “existential threat” that climate change poses.
She said that a Biden administration would invest in renewable energy jobs, and achieve net-zero carbon emission by 2050. Harris said that a Biden administration would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord “with pride.”’
SUPREME COURT AND ABORTION
Pence and Harris made clear their divergent views on access to abortion in response to questions about Trump’s pick to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, who would cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court if she’s confirmed.
“I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body,” Harris said. “It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and the vice president, Michael Pence.”
Pence said that the Trump administration was firmly opposed to abortion rights, though he claimed that he didn’t know how Barrett would rule on the issue. “I’m pro-life and I don’t apologize for it,” Pence said.
RACIAL JUSTICE AND POLICING
Harris, leaning into her record as a prosecutor, outlined a range of policies that she said a Biden administration would pursue to bring reforms to the criminal justice system, citing the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Biden would “immediately” ban police from using choke holds and create a “national registry for policy officers who break the law,” she said. A Biden administration would also abolish private prisons, eliminate cash bail, decriminalize marijuana and expunge the records of those convicted of marijuana drug crimes.
Pence said that he had trust in the justice system and rejected as an “insult” to law enforcement the notion that there is implicit or systemic racial bias against minorities. He said that the Trump administration would “always stand with law enforcement.”
Pence also pointed to Sen. Tim Scott’s police reform bill that Democrats rejected in the Senate. That legislation, he said, would have provided “new accountability” and “new resources” for law enforcement.