A week ago, the world witnessed a fiery stand-off between President Trump and Presidential candidate Joe Biden. A week later, Vice Presidential nominees - Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris took to the stage on October 7, 2020, Wednesday evening, (8th October 2020, Thursday IST) for a more sedate debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Kingsbury Hall. Ms Harris made history by becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to participate in a general elections debate. This debate was moderated by Susan Page of USA Today.
Coronavirus took the centre stage as the debate commenced. Ms.Harris accused President Trump of presiding over “the greatest failure” in US presidential history and lying to the Americans about the severity of the virus. “They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you”, she said. She was explicit with her statistics, which included the death of 210,000 people, over 7 million people contracting the virus and 30 million people filing for unemployment over the past several months in America.
Vice President Pence defended the administration’s record on handling the virus by supporting the president’s decision to suspend travels from China. “President Donald Trump has put the health of America first,” he said. Senator Harris went for the jugular, attacking the safety measures in the White House where multiple officials have been infected.
Compared to the spectacle that unfolded between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, there were very few interruptions in this debate. But at the same time, the candidates did not hesitate to express their disregard for each other. Mr Pence interrupted Ms Harris on several occasions and often spoke beyond his allotted time. Senator Harris expressed her disdain through non-verbal cues - often raising her eyebrows or smiling in disbelief while her opponent was speaking.
The most remarkable clashes witnessed during this debate were on Law Enforcement and Race. Kamala Harris repeatedly referred to her experience as an attorney-general of California to prove that she understood US law enforcement and the implicit bias that hurts people of colour. Mr Pence rejected the idea that the US was “systemically racist”, describing the notion as “a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement.”
The debate took a turn towards climate change, where the moderator posed the question, “Do you believe, as the scientific community has concluded, that man-made climate change has made wildfires bigger, hotter, and more deadly, and has made hurricanes wetter, slower, and more damaging?”
"Let's talk about who is prepared to lead our country over the course of the next four years on what is an existential threat to us as human beings,” said Senator Harris. “Joe is about saying, 'We're going to invest in renewable energy,’ it's going to be about the creation of millions of jobs. We will achieve zero emissions by 2050, carbon neutrality by 2035. Joe has a plan," she said. Responding to this, Mr Pence said: "There are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago, but many climate alarmists use hurricanes and fires to try and sell the Green New Deal.”
The debate ended with a question that was posed by Brecklynn Brown, an 8th-grade student from Utah. “When I watch the news, all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans. When I watch the news, all I see is citizens fighting against citizens. When I watch the news, all I see are two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?”
Mr Pence answered by appreciating the question and applauding the student for showing interest in public life. He said, “I would tell you that, don’t assume that what you’re seeing on your local news networks is synonymous with the American people. Love a good debate. We love a good argument. But we always come together and are always there for one another in times of need. And we’ve especially learned that through the difficulties of this year.”
Ms.Harris said that she loves hearing from young leaders and believes that the future is bright through the right leadership. Elections ought to happen as people should vote to show their preference. She also highlighted that Joe Biden has a history of lifting people up and fighting for their dignity.
Nonetheless, the first and only Vice Presidential debate proved to be a well-versed debate with candidates who put forth their viewpoints on how to establish a successful administration in the US.