In the wake of President Trump contracting coronavirus after being disdainful of efforts to contain the disease, the pandemic took center stage at a vice presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence that left supporters on both sides declaring victory.
Early on during the debate in Salt Lake City, Harris tore into Pence for the more than 200,000 deaths as a result of coronavirus and the economic hardship that has resulted from the epidemic.
“Here are the facts: 210,000 dead people in our country in just the last several months, over 7 million people who have contracted this disease, one in five businesses closed,” Harris said. “We’re looking at frontline workers who have been treated like sacrificial workers. We are looking at over 30 million people, who in the last several months had to file for unemployment.”
Harris concluded, “Frankly, this administration has forfeited their right to re-election.”
Pence, who led the White House Coronavirus Task Force, turned the issue to the resilience of the American people, citing statistics that without the Trump administration’s actions the death toll would have reached a larger figure of 2.2 million people.
“The American people, I believe, deserve credit for the sacrifices that they have made putting the health of their family and their neighbors first, our doctors, our nurses are first responders and I’m going to speak up on behalf of what the American people have done,” Pence said.
Taking a jab at Joe Biden, Pence said he looked at the Biden plan to address the coronavirus by advancing testing and developing a vaccine and concluded “it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about.”
Harris, however, said the American people had to endure hardship because the Trump administration was inadequate in addressing the coronavirus, making a visceral appeal to debate watchers.
“I want to ask the American people: How calm were you when you were panicked about where you’re going to get your next roll of toilet paper, how calm were you when your kids were sent home from school and you didn’t know when they could go back, how do you think when your children couldn’t see your parents because you were afraid they could kill them?” Harris said as she looked into the camera.
Moderator Susan Page of USA Today, in the aftermath of the slapfest debate last week between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, sought to enforce the rules in speaking time for participants and asked thoughtful, well-researched questions in a debate the Associated Press called “a rare return to some semblance of normal politics.”
LGBTQ issues didn’t come up during the debate, despite calls from LGBTQ advocacy groups for a question to distinguish Harris’ record of support for the LGBTQ community with Pence’s draconian anti-LGBTQ record.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, publicly criticized Page in a statement for not bringing up LGBTQ issues during the debate.
“Tonight, Susan Page had the opportunity to highlight the stark contrast between Mike Pence — the Vice President with the longest and most problematically anti-LGBTQ record in decades — and Kamala Harris, a true champion of our community,” David said. “Unfortunately for the 57 million Equality Voters and 11 million LGBTQ voters eager to hear from the candidates on these issues, Page did not ask any questions about the candidates’ LGBTQ records — a disservice to voters across the country.”
The Washington Blade has placed a request with Page seeking comment in response to David’s criticism.
Social justice, however, did come up in the form of a question on whether Breonna Taylor, a Black woman in Kentucky who was killed in an incident of alleged police brutality, received justice after the state declined to prosecute officers who shot her multiple times during a raid on her home.
Harris talked about her personal experience with Taylor’s family, then shifted to the video widely seen by Americans of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd.
“People around our country of every race, of every age, of every gender — perfect strangers to each other — marched shoulder-to-shoulder arm-and-arm fighting for us to finally achieve that ideal of equal justice under law, and I was a part of those peaceful protests,” Harris said. “And I believe strongly that first of all we are never going to condone violence, but we always must fight for the values that we hold dear, including the fight to achieve our ideal.”
Pence, in the most uncomfortable moment of the debate for the vice president, declined to say whether justice had been served.
“Well, our heart breaks for the loss of any innocent American life, and the family of Breonna Taylor has our sympathies,” Pence said. “But I trust our justice system.”
After briefly addressing Floyd’s death, Pence said ongoing rioting and looting are taking place throughout the country, dismissing assertions law enforcement agencies are systemically racist.
With the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court pending before the U.S. Senate, the topic of the judiciary also came up. Amid criticism Barrett would let her Catholic beliefs dictate her rulings from the bench, Pence said he hoped Democrats wouldn’t come after the nominee for her faith.
“Our hope is in the hearing next week, unlike Justice Kavanaugh received with treatment from you and others, we hope she gets a fair hearing,” Pence said.
LGBTQ advocacy and progressive groups have been steadfast in their opposition to Barrett as a replacement for the late U.S. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and said her confirmation would leave LGBTQ rights vulnerable to religious claims and even jeopardize same-sex marriage.
Harris rejected religion was an issue, saying Democrats objected to holding a vote on a nominee to the Supreme Court with 27 days remaining before a presidential election. As precedent, Harris cited a Supreme Court vacancy in 1864 when Abraham Lincoln was up for re-election.
“But Honest Abe said it’s not the right thing to do,” Harris said. “The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States, and then that person can select who will serve for a lifetime on the highest court of our land.”
When Harris was asked if Biden would pack the judiciary as president Harris declined to directly answer, much like Biden in last week’s debate — a point Pence sought to emphasize.
David, after criticizing the debate moderator for not asking a question on LGBTQ issues, went on to rebuke Pence for talking over both Page and Harris.
“Throughout the debate, Mike Pence talked over both Sen. Harris and moderator Susan Page,” David said. “His condescending display toward these two powerful women is further confirmation of the Trump-Pence campaign’s blatant disrespect for women. Thankfully, Kamala Harris clearly demonstrated that she is not only capable but unrivaled in her ability to lead our nation as Vice President as she prosecuted the case against a reckless president and vice president who have failed at every opportunity to manage this pandemic and the economic fallout that it has wrought.”