Kamala Harris lands punches on Mike Pence over Trump’s record in only VP debate

Both candidates ignore questions and pull some punches in first face-to-face meeting

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Thursday 08 October 2020 06:04
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The key moments from the vice presidential debate

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris repeatedly attacked Vice President Mike Pence over the Trump administration’s record and his attempts to interrupt her during their one and only debate.  

“Mr vice president, I’m speaking. I’m speaking,” the California senator said as Mr Pence quieted down, making her more adept at handling him than her running mate, former Vice President Joe Biden, was with Donald Trump during their first debate last week.

As the VP debate drew to a close, Mr Pence would not say clearly that Mr Trump would accept the outcome of the election if he loses. His running mate has said he must first determine if the race was “fair”, and Mr Pence said Democrats have tried to “change the rules” with mass mail-in voting due to worries about contracting the coronavirus by voting in person.

Ms Harris appeared to narrowly win the night, especially when she called the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic the biggest failure ever by an American administration. But she declined to answer a question about whether she and Mr Biden intend to expand the Supreme Court by adding liberal justices should they win and Democrats take over the Senate.

Moderator Susan Page of USA Today asked each one if they had discussed what they should do if their older running mates died in office, but both candidates deflected and sidestepped. Mr Trump is 74 and Mr Biden is 77.

The rivals sparred early in the event about a vaccine for the coronavirus, which Mr Trump said in a video released earlier in the evening should be ready “after the election”.

“If the doctors tell us to take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it,” she said. “But if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.”

Mr Pence accused her of “playing politics with people’s lives,” calling her perceived “undermining of public confidence” about a potential vaccine “unconscionable”.

She also accused the administration of a deadly cover up.

“They knew and they covered it up,” Ms Harris said of the Trump administration and what it knew about the virus in February and March.

The duo met one week after the first presidential debate, during which Mr Trump and Mr Biden interrupted and yelled at one another for around 90 minutes. Voters, the few who are still undecided at least, learned very little about their ideas that might help them cast a ballot.

Mr Pence and Ms Harris started playing by the rules, but soon interrupted one another on topics like the coronavirus and energy policy, as well as pre-existing conditions.

In one memorable moment, Ms Harris objected when her rival tried butting in. “'Mr Vice President, I'm speaking,” she said. But a few times, Mr Pence took umbrage with her answers, telling her “senator, you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts”.

The first and only VP showdown came as Mr Biden has opened a 9.7-point lead nationally, according to RealClearPolitics’ average of several surveys. A CNN poll out on Tuesday put him up by an eye-popping 16 points.

Mr Trump’s deficit in Pennsylvania, which political analysts say Mr Biden must take to win the presidency, widened to 7.1 percentage points, according to the RealClear average. It had dipped to 3.9 points on 21 September.

Mr Biden leads by 6 points or more in several other key battlegrounds: Michigan, Nevada and New Hampshire. And the former VP leads by 4.5 points in Mr Trump’s new home state, Florida, which a GOP strategist connected to the White House says Mr Trump cannot lose and have a viable path to the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to win. The president trails by 5.5 points in Wisconsin, which he won in 2016 and almost certainly needs again.

The duo and their running mates are in virtual dead heats in Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio. All went for the president last time.

As some Democrats quietly suggest Mr Trump has inflicted on himself too many political wounds to pull off a second surprise win, the president’s campaign team continues saying their own surveys suggest there is a large number of “shy” Trump voters who are embarrassed to tell pollsters they want him to get four more years.

For his part, the president released a second video shot since he returned to the White House after spending parts of four days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with coronavirus. He did not wish his No. 2, Pence, luck. Instead, citing no medical evidence but his own case, touted what he, and he alone, called a “cure” for the virus.

It is called “Regeneron”, said Mr Trump, and is considered a therapeutic antibody cocktail medication – not a vaccine – by doctors and the pharmaceutical industry.

“I view these … to me, it wasn’t therapeutic,” Mr Trump said standing near the Oval Office, to which he returned on Wednesday. “I call that a cure.”

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