Coherent Sentences and Flies: The Vice-Presidential Debate


Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

Rohan Upadhyay, Contributor

The first presidential debate was messy. Compared to that, this week’s VP debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence was much more civil (besides the fly that parked in Pence’s hair for minutes). Though the scream fest may have turned eyeballs, we could actually hear the candidates this time. What did they say?


Harris opened strong, hammering that – during the pandemic – 210,000 have died, 1 in 5 businesses have closed, and the 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment. She expressed that these are all things that President Trump could have prevented. She attacked Trump for downplaying COVID-19, then turned to the camera and asked, “what if you knew in January?” She then explained Biden’s pandemic plan, which entails national contact tracing and free vaccines.

Pence countered that Trump banned Chinese flights in January while Biden called that “xenophobic.” This – Pence claimed – saved time to increase supplies and testing. Harris responded that Trump’s plan failed, as 200,000 died while Trump admitted to Bob Woodward that he downplayed COVID-19. Pence claimed that 200,000 people would have died anyway, while 2.2 million could have died if Trump did nothing.

Trump’s COVID Diagnosis

Pence was asked why Trump is trustworthy if he caught COVID-19 himself. Pence dodged, expressing confidence in the public and stating that people were tested at Amy Coney Barett’s ceremony. He then attacked Harris’ support of “cumbersome mandates,” a “government takeover” of healthcare, and the Green New Deal.

Harris responded with “people are waiting in food lines because of Trump’s lies.”


When asked if she’d take a vaccine that the Trump administration put out, Harris said that she’d take it if Dr. Fauci promoted it, not Trump. Pence claimed that Harris is “undermining” vaccines and that tens of millions of vaccines will arrive by December, with 5 companies in Phase III.

Then Pence pivoted to swine flu. He called it Biden’s failure and said *if* it was as deadly as COVID-19, then 2.2 million would have died (but it wasn’t. Only 14,000 died compared to 210,000). Pence claimed that Obama left an “empty” Strategic National Stockpile.

Trump and Biden’s Ages and Health

When asked if she’d had a conversation with Joe Biden about Biden’s health, Harris pivoted to “values.” She touted “taking on ” Wall Street and transnational criminal groups and explained that this is why Biden chose her.

Harris was later asked about “transparency,” and she pivoted to Trump not being transparent with his taxes, as we learned that he only paid $750 a year. Pence replied that Trump has paid millions in payroll taxes and alluded to public records being “inaccurate.”


Harris was asked about Biden’s $4 trillion in new taxes. She responded by slamming Trump for caring about elites while Biden cares about workers. She claimed that Trump’s tax cuts allowed for a $2 trillion deficit and that Biden would repeal the cuts and invest in infrastructure, mentioning that Trump said he’d do that but didn’t. She endorsed 2-year free community college, free college for families making under $125000, and student debt relief of $10,000 per person. She slammed Trump for allowing corporations to outsource jobs.

Pence slammed Obama for leaving Trump a slow economic recovery. Pence cited Trump’s average family tax cut of $2000 (notice that he gave the average – which is skewed by high outliers – not the median) and an average $4000 rise in income. Pence claimed that Trump “unleashed” the energy industry, while Biden would kill the economy by banning fracking and repealing tariffs on China.

Harris clarified that Biden wouldn’t raise taxes for those making under $400,000 and that he won’t ban fracking. Biden recovered the economy while Trump allowed a recession. Biden got Obamacare passed and covered 20 million people with pre-existing conditions, while Trump is doing the opposite (referencing his lawsuit against Obamacare), according to Harris.

Pence retaliated that Obamacare was a disaster and that Trump will protect pre-existing conditions (that’s a lie, as I just mentioned Trump’s lawsuit against it). He repeated the false talking point that Biden will ban fracking and slammed Harris’ support of the $2 trillion Green New Deal.


On the subject of the Green New Deal, Pence was asked if man-made climate change affects the severity of climate-related disasters. He responded with “the climate is changing” and bragged about improved air and water quality. He slammed Biden for crushing America with the Paris Climate Agreement, claiming that America progresses because of the free market. He also bragged that America has reduced CO2 emissions more than countries in the Paris-Agreement by transitioning to fracking and natural gas. Pence also slams “climate alarmists,” claiming that there are no more hurricanes than 100 years ago (even though the moderator asked if climate change is impacting hurricane severity, not frequency).

Harris was asked if she supports the Green New Deal. She didn’t directly answer, instead stressing that Biden won’t ban fracking nor raise taxes for those making under $400,000. Harris said that Biden will create 7 million jobs, reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and zero-carbon emission by 2035, and re-enter the Paris Agreement.

Pence was then asked if climate change is an existential threat. He dodged and repeated his attacks on the Green New Deal and raising taxes. Harris then pivoted to manufacturing, claiming that Trump lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs in his trade war with China. Pence counters by criticizing Obama for losing 200,000 manufacturing jobs and commends Trump for adding 500,000. Harris reminds that Biden bailed out the auto-industry while Pence voted against that. Pence counters this by attacking Biden’s support of NAFTA – he reminds us that Trump renegotiated NAFTA and that Harris voted against that.


Discussing trade relations brought us into the topic of foreign policy. Harris slammed Trump for betraying allies and supporting dictators like Putin while Russia interfered with the 2016 election (even though Special Counsel Robert Muller found no evidence of this specific charge). Harris also endorsed Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal.

Pence touted Trump’s moving of a US embassy to Jerusalem and the assassinations of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Harris responded on the issue of Iran, saying that Iran made a counter strike on US troops in Iraq that led to brain injuries which Trump dismissed as “headaches.” She also slammed Trump for ignoring “Russian bounties” on US troops.


The moderator asked Pence: if Amy Coney Barett reaches the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade is overturned, what does he think Indiana should do? Pence dodged and endorsed Barett while attacking Democrats for criticizing Barett’s religion. To set the record straight, Democrats criticized Barett for letting her religion influence her judicial rulings, which they argued is problematic as America is supposed to be a secular country).

Harris affirmed her religious faith and pro-choice stance, then pivoted to Barett’s opposition of Obamacare. She stressed that 7 million Americans have COVID-19 – which could become a pre-existing condition – but Trump is trying to scrap protections. Meanwhile – as Harris claims –  Biden wants a public insurance option and to lower the Medicare age to 60.

Pence accused Harris of supporting late-term abortions, then asked if she’d pack the Supreme Court with extra justices if Barett was nominated. Harris dodged Pence’s question about court-packing by saying that we should wait to fill the Court, then accused Trump of “packing the court” by not choosing black judges.


When asked how to serve justice for Breonna Taylor, Harris endorsed chokehold bans, a national registry of law-breaking cops, decriminalizing marijuana, expunging nonviolent drug-offenders’ records, and abolishing private prisons and cash bail.

Pence slammed Democrats for blocking Republican Senator Tim Scott’s criminal justice bill. Pence claimed that Trump reduced black unemployment and expanded their school choice.

Harris then slammed Trump for racism (for the Muslim ban, calling Mexicans “rapists,” etc.), but Pence retaliated with his strongest moment. He called out Harris’ hypocrisy, claiming that blacks were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted than whites under Harris’ term as DA of San Francisco. He ripped Harris for locking up poor people of color for nonviolent offenses, and he boasted about Trump signing the First Step Act. In an interesting contradiction, Pence accused Harris of perpetuating systemic racism, but earlier he denied the existence of systemic racism.

Harris didn’t respond well – she mentioned leading the charge on body cameras , but she avoided Pence’s criticism.


When asked this, Harris dodged the question and simply encouraged people to vote and bragged about their coalition, touting Republican endorsers like Colin Powell.

On this question, Pence also dodged claiming that they’ll win. He slammed Democrats for trying to overturn the 2016 election results and for spying on Trump’s campaign. To clarify, the latter claim is false. The former refers to Trump’s impeachment, which didn’t violate democratic norms and isn’t the same as Trump refusing to step down as an incumbent.


Though this debate was coherent, it wasn’t (in my opinion) impactful on the voters. Harris’ strongest moments involved slamming Trump’s COVID-19 response, which Biden already accomplished in the first debate. As COVID-19 is one of America’s top issues right now (according to polls), Harris simply solidified the advantage that Democrats have going into November.

Beyond that, Harris’ responses were more subdued. She let Pence lie about her abortion stance and Trump’s healthcare position, for example – voters may come away from this debate believing that Trump will protect pre-existing conditions, which could help him.

However, even when Pence landed some shots – such as criticizing Obama’s record on manufacturing – Harris had responses ready. Voters may think that it’s a wash between the candidates on issues like that, and that’s good for Biden because Biden is already leading by 9.7% on average (as of October 8th). Since Trump is behind, Pence needed a decisive victory. He (in my view) didn’t show voters why he and Trump are prepared to handle COVID-19, and even though he came across as more adult than Trump, he may not have helped his case much.