Breaking Down the Vice-Presidential Debate

Gianna Hutton, Design Editor

On Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. EST, the Vice Presidential debate between Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence aired from Salt Lake City, Utah; the first major event of the presidential race since current President Donald Trump’s diagnosis of COVID-19

Moderated by USA Today’s Susan Page, the candidates exchanged positions on nine major talking points: the pandemic, presidential disability, the economy, climate change, China, abortion, Supreme Court nomination, racial justice, the election results and bipartisanship. 

The Pandemic 

A tense discussion regarding the coronavirus pandemic kicked off the debate. Harris opened the debate alluding to the information released by Bob Woodwood, an investigative journalist with the Washington.In Woodward’s book ‘Rage’, he claims that Trump had knowledge about the severity of the pandemic since Jan. 28 and deliberately withheld it from the public until Mar. 13. 

Harris continued, highlighting the Biden Campaign’s plan for handling COVID-19, specifically making the vaccine free for all and increasing personal protective equipment. She also claimed the president had called the coronavirus a hoax, a misleading statement. The full context of the speech she was alluding to criticized the democratic party’s actions rather than the danger the pandemic presents, according to PolitiFact

Pence, the Head of the Coronavirus Task Force, responded by saying that the Trump Administration has always put the health of Americans first. He noted how Trump enacted a complete travel ban to China in opposition, however the New York Times found that he exaggerated his claim. While a travel ban was put in place on Jan. 31, it only applied to foreign citizens and included exceptions. 

Regarding the possible superspreader event at the Supreme Court Judge nomination of Amy Coney Barrett and the lack of COVID-19 precautions taken, Pence said that he trusts the American people to make decisions that benefit their health and they understand they must personally make sacrifices.

The candidates’ opinions differed drastically on the topic of national mask mandates, with Harris in favor of a national mask mandate and Pence opposing the idea, arguing that the American people will take precautions in their own interest. 

Presidential Disability 

Neither candidate fully disclosed whether or not they had established a plan or had a conversation with the presidential candidates in the case they have a medical emergency given their old age. Instead, Pence pointed to the handling of the Swine flu in 2009 claiming that if it were as lethal as the coronavirus, two million American lives would have been lost, a claim that lacks evidence according to the New York Times. Harris focused more on the shared values with her running mate and her career in public service. 

Upon being asked if voters should know about the health of each candidate, Pence agreed and thanked the public and Harris for the broad and bipartisan support following the announcement of Trump’s condition. Harris reiterated the need for transparency with public health issues and economic issues, pointing towards the recent investigative release by the New York Times which revealed that Trump had only paid $750 in federal income taxes in the 2016 and 2017 year. 

The Economy 

The vice presidential candidates highlighted the vastly different economic models the candidates plan to adopt if elected.

Harris mentioned Biden’s priorities, which include investing in clean energy and making junior community college free. Overall, the pair believes that the health of the American economy relies on the health of the American workers and families. 

Juxtaposing Harris, Pence discussed how the Trump Administration plans to continue rolling back regulations and criticizing the Biden Plan in terms of keeping the Affordable Care Act and addressing climate change. 

Climate Change

The Trump Administration has had a substantial influence over environmental regulations and policies, typically to boost the fossil fuel industry. Pence praised Trump’s environmental record, claiming that Trump has made it clear that he listens to science. However, a few weeks earlier, Trump had said in regards to climate change and the West Coast wildfires that he does not ‘think science knows’. Pence continued to speak on the importance of our clean air and water and urged for forest management to regulate the West Coast wildfires. 

Harris emphasized Biden’s Clean Energy Plan, saying that it will create a plethora of jobs and feature going net zero by 2050. Pence argued it is the equivalent to the Green New Deal, a plan introduced by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts in Feb. of 2019. Harris rebutted, stating that the Green New Deal was only used as a framework for the Biden Plan. 

Pence and Harris also argued about fracking, a form of extracting fossil fuels, with Pence continuously claiming that Biden would ban fracking, which has been proven false according to Girst.  


When asked about the U.S.’s fundamental relationship with China, Pence blamed China for the spread of COVID-19, arguing that they did not allow U.S. personnel inside of China earlier this year. 

Harris disagreed with the Trump administration’s stance on China, arguing that the foreign policy plan pursued by Trump had accounted for a loss in American lives, jobs and foreign standing and criticized it saying that he had a unilateral approach to foreign policy, practicing isolationism. Harris also referred to a PEW Research Article that found that leaders of allied countries have more respect for communist China than the current U.S. leadership. She also argued that Trump betrayed U.S. allies by embracing dictatorships like Russia, saying that the American Intelligence Committee of the Senate found that Russia intervened in 2016 the election and plans to in 2020. 

Furthermore, the two Vice-Presidential Candidates disagreed over key foreign policy issues such as the Iran Nuclear deal and relations with Russia. 

Supreme Court 

In regards to the Supreme court, Pence and Harris disagree on filling the seat. Pence argued that the nature of Barett’s nomination and her Catholic faith should impede her confirmation.  Harris refuted this by pointing out how Biden is also a practicing Caholic, continuing saying that the idea of not filling the seat was derived from a historical rather than religious perspective. 

Racial Injustice 

On racial injustice, both candidates agreed on the tragic nature of Breonna Taylor’s death. However, they took different stances on addressing the topic in general. Pence acknowledged the pain following her death, but regarded the rioting and looting that followed as inexcusable. On the other hand, Harris highlighted Biden’s plan to decriminalize marijuana and create no new private jails, overall saying that Biden will unite and bring America together while Trump has served as a divisive force.  


In regards to Trump’s claims that he cannot guarantee a peaceful transfer of power, Pence digressed from the topic, instead taking the time to talk about their plan to win and claiming that the FBI spied on Trump in 2016, as well as questioning the validity of universal mail-in-voting. 

Harris instead focused on the broad coalition the Biden Campaign has made and urged Americans to vote.


The last question, submitted by an eighth grader and regarding bipartisanship, highlighted the issues facing current day America. Harris urged Americans to vote for Biden, who she says will unite the U.S. Pence took the time to discuss how, despite much debate, people with different political views could get along as friends such as Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 


The debate served to emphasize the drastically different stances on important issues that both presidential candidates have. Both candidates raised unanswered questions such as ‘Will democrats push for more seats on the Supreme Court?’ and ‘Will President Trump agree to a peaceful transfer of power?’  They also both made some inaccurate or misleading statements, according to the New York TimesOverall, according to a CNN Instant Poll of registered voters who watched the VP debate, 59% of viewers said Harris won, while 38% said Pence performed best.