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Key takeaways from the vice-presidential debate

  • After last week’s calamitous Presidential debate, the Vice Presidential debate was poised to provide a more policy-oriented counterweight, with Kamala Harris and Joe Biden attempting to clarify their starkly contrasting policies amongst a surge in political misinformation.
Published October 8, 2020
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After last week’s calamitous Presidential debate, the Vice Presidential debate was poised to provide a more policy-oriented counterweight, with Kamala Harris and Joe Biden attempting to clarify their starkly contrasting policies amongst a surge in political misinformation. The two sparred over the government’s handling of the pandemic, to the Republican ‘stacking’ of the Supreme Court, climate change, to criminal justice reforms - here are four key takeaways from Wednesday’s debate:

The COVID-19 Pandemic: A key topic of the debate, and an issue that has resonated with the electorate on a social, cultural and economic level, led to a heated exchange between the two candidates, with Senator Harris calling the Trump Administration’s response to the virus, “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country”, after nearly 210,000 Americans have died, and at least 7.5 million people have caught the virus - including President Trump himself.

Vice President Pence, who was tasked for running the administration’s coronavirus task force, aggressively defended the Trump Administration’s strategy in dealing with the pandemic, and argued that the policies have been “very successful”. The Vice President was asked about the Rose Garden event for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Barrett, in which a densely packed event full of unmasked attendees caused an outbreak of the virus in the White House - a significant security threat, considering that the President himself (who falls within the “high risk” category) contracted the virus.

Pence responded that, “President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interest of their health. And Joe Biden and Kamala Harris consistently talk about mandates [...] all government control. We are about freedom and respecting freedom of the American people”. Senator Harris responded, “You respect the American people when you tell them the truth. You respect the American people when you have the courage to be a leader speaking of those things that you may not want people to hear but they need to hear, so they can protect themselves” - referring to the lack of unfiltered honest discourse by the administration during the pandemic.

The Age of the Candidates: A noteworthy observation from this year’s Presidential race is that both of the candidates are some of the oldest in the country’s history, with the incumbent (suffering from the coronavirus) being 74 years old, and Biden being the oldest presidential nominee at 77 years old. However, both of the candidates have relatively younger running mates, and when asked about their plan, if they are called upon to take the mantle of the presidency in a worst case scenario, both candidates conveniently dodged the question - with Pence on a tangent on a potential cure for the virus, and Harris speaking about her background. An interesting layer of analysis to this looming likelihood of Presidential candidates having to take their age into consideration, both having chosen candidates who could potentially run through the traditional route for their party’s respective nominations in the next electoral cycle in 2024. Regardless of the outcome of this election, a President Harris or a President Pence could very much be on the cards in the next election, and that this debate is a matchup of two future presidential candidates, both of whom are “pitching” themselves to the electorate.

Racial Issues: In the wake of the controversial George Floyd and Breonna Taylor cases, “Black Lives Matter” protests surged across the country, and Senator Harris spoke on her experience in the criminal justice system, and how the judicial system fails to indict officers charged with violent crimes. In response, Vice President Pence argued that, “I trust our justice system [...] and it really is remarkable that as a former prosecutor, you would assume that an empanelled grand jury looking at all the evidence got it wrong”.

Racial Issues: In the wake of the controversial George Floyd and Breonna Taylor cases, “Black Lives Matter” protests surged across the country, and Senator Harris spoke on her experience in the criminal justice system, and how the judicial system fails to indict officers charged with violent crimes. In response, Vice President Pence argued that, “I trust our justice system [...] and it really is remarkable that as a former prosecutor, you would assume that an empanelled grand jury looking at all the evidence got it wrong”.

When asked about the protests that emerged in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, who died when overpowered and inhumanely strangled while being arrested by Minneapolis police officers, Harris said that “I was a part of those peaceful protests, and I believe strongly that first of all we are never going to condone violence, but we always must fight for the values we hold dear”. The Vice President responded “there is no excuse for what happened to George Floyd, and justice will be served. But there is also no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed”.

By referencing President Trump’s controversial refusal to condemn white supremacists in the presidential debate, Harris commented that, “The reality of this is that we are talking about an election in 27 days where last week the president of the United States took a debate stage in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacists, and it wasn’t like he didn’t have a chance, he didn’t do it and then he doubled down. And then he said when pressed, ‘Stand back. Stand by’.”

The Issue of ‘Court Packing’ the Supreme Court: After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a progressive icon who served on the bench for 27 years, President Trump nominated Amy Barrett - a notably conservative judge - to occupy Ginsburg’s now-vacant seat in the Supreme Court. The Trump Administration’s two Supreme Court appointees, including Barrett and (the now infamous) Brett Kavanaugh, have tilted the balance in favour of conservatives, with a likely 6-3 conservative majority. Biden and Harris were repeatedly asked whether they support the notion of “court packing”, and while both candidates failed to sufficiently answer the question, the Vice President criticised Harris, saying “the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election” - gesturing that this is a strategy used by both parties.

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