Coronavirus is ripping through the ranks of the White House. More than 200,000 Americans have died from the disease. And questions are still swirling around President Donald Trump’s own health after he contracted Covid.
With that as the backdrop, Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris faced off in Salt Lake City — behind plexiglass — for the first and only vice presidential debate.
Here are the key moments from the primetime showdown.
‘We beg you, please’: Debate audience gets stern warning about mask-wearing Before the fireworks began between Pence and Harris, attendees received a stern warning about keeping their masks on during the proceedings.
“If you take your mask off someone, will approach you and ask you to please put your mask back on,” Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told the audience before the debate kicked off, according to a press pool report.
Fahrenkopf referred audience members to conditions laid out on their ticket, saying that those who refused such a request would be kicked out of the debate.
“We beg you, please do not take off your mask,” he added.
The warning comes following reports that members of President Donald Trump’s family refused requests at last week’s presidential debate that they put their masks back on in the debate hall.
Harris calls Covid-19 ‘greatest failure’ of any U.S. administration Harris came out swinging against the Trump White House from the first moments of the debate, calling the administration’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”
Harris pointed to the human and economic loss of the pandemic. Across the country, more than 210,000 Americans are dead, over 7 million have contracted the disease, one in five businesses have closed, and over 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the past few months, she said.
Harris accused the Trump administration of covering up the seriousness of the virus as far back as January.
“Here’s the thing. On Jan. 28, the vice president and the president were informed about the nature of this pandemic,” Harris said. “They knew and they covered it up. The president said it was a hoax. They minimized the seriousness of it.”
Pence: Biden’s pandemic plan ‘a little bit like plagiarism’ Pence wasted no time taking a swipe at Biden, saying that his plan to address the coronavirus pandemic “looks a little bit like plagiarism.”
“Quite frankly, when I look at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine, it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” the vice president said.
Trump and his allies on the campaign have frequently tweaked Biden, whose earlier runs for president were dogged by accusations of lifting from others’ work. That included his use of the slogan “Build Back Better,” which has been used by other politicians in the U.S. and elsewhere.
In her response, Harris appealed directly to viewers about whether they thought the Trump administration’s response was sufficient and cut off Pence when he tried to interject, in the first sharp exchange. “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” she said while holding up her hand.
“How calm were you when you were panicked about where you were going to get your next roll of toilet paper?” Harris said. “How calm were you when your kids were sent home from school, and you didn’t know when they could come back? How calm were you when your children couldn’t see your parents because you were afraid they could kill them.”
Harris responds to being interrupted: ‘Mr. Vice President I am speaking’
Harris again stopped Pence from interrupting her by calmly saying, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”
The night has mostly been void of cross-talking, which had dominated the first presidential debate. But when Pence tried to talk over Harris as she explained Biden’s tax plans, the senator made it clear that she would finish her sentence without any interruption: “If you don’t mind letting me finish, we can have a conversation.
Harris used the time she was allotted to say that Biden wouldn’t raise taxes for those who make less than $400,000, nor would he ban fracking. When the moderator tried to cut her off, she extended her time by saying, “He interrupted me, and I’d like to just finish.”
Pence defends Rose Garden event linked to coronavirus spread Pence defended a Rose Garden event last month after which more than 30 people, including the president, tested positive for coronavirus.
The Sept. 26 event, where Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court, was outdoors, one tactic routinely touted by scientists to mitigate the virus, Pence said.
“That Rose Garden event, there’s been a great deal of speculation about it,” Pence said. “My wife and I were honored to be there. Many people there were tested for coronavirus, and it was an outdoor event which all of our scientists regularly and routinely advise.”
Few people at the event were wearing masks, and there was little distance between people. Some guests interacted at gatherings both inside and outside the White House before and after the event.
“President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interests of their health,” Pence continued. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris consistently talk about mandates, and not just mandates with the coronavirus, but a government takeover of health care.”
Harris: Trump lost the trade war with China Harris slammed the Trump administration’s economic policies, contending that the president lost the trade war with China that Pence touted as an accomplishment.
Trump’s dealings with China have led to a “manufacturing recession,” Harris said, noting that the U.S. lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs and that farmers have gone bankrupt because of the trade war.
Harris cited estimates that show that by the end of Trump’s first term, more jobs will have been lost under his tenure than almost any other president.
“Almost half of American renters are worried about whether they’ll be able to pay rent by the end of the month,” she said. “This is where the economy is in America right now. And it is because of the catastrophe and failure of leadership of this administration.”
Pence responded by criticizing Biden for being a “cheerleader” for China over the past few decades.
“Lost the trade war with China? Joe Biden never fought it,” Pence said.
Pence honors parents of Kayla Mueller Pence honored Kayla Mueller, an American humanitarian worker who was captured and killed by members of the militant group ISIS.
While discussing Trump’s record in the Middle East, Pence pointed out that earlier Wednesday the Department of Justice had extradited and charged two men believed to be part of the four-person group of Islamic State fighters with British accents known as the “Beatles” with terrorism offenses related to their alleged roles in the kidnapping and killing of several American hostages, including Mueller in 2015.
“The reality is, when Joe Biden was vice president we had an opportunity to save Kayla Mueller,” Pence said, noting that Mueller’s parents were in Salt Lake City as his guests. Pence pointed to a failed attempt by the Obama administration to save Mueller from captivity in Syria.
“It breaks my heart to reflect on it but the military came into the Oval Office, presented a plan, they said they knew where Kayla was,” Pence said, adding that she had been held for 18 months and was abused before she was killed. “But when Joe Biden was vice president, they hesitated for a month and when armed forces finally went in, it was clear she had been moved two days earlier, and her family says with a heart that broke the heart of every American, that if president Donald Trump had been president, they believe Kayla would be alive today.”
Harris zeroes in on Trump’s military musings Harris raised the issue of the president’s disparagement of military officials — including the late Sen. John McCain and others — in public and private settings, including reportedly calling some fallen soldiers “suckers.”
“This is about a pattern of Donald Trump’s, where he has referred to our men who are serving in our military as suckers and losers,” she said. “Because of course he only thinks about what is in it for him.”
The president has fervently denied the accusations, which are particularly sensitive for him politically given that he considers the military and their families as part of his base. But he has also publicly said that military generals favor “endless wars” to benefit weapons manufacturers.
Pence, whose son is a captain in the Marine Corps, rushed to Trump’s defense.
“The slanders against President Donald Trump regarding men and women of our armed services are absurd,” Pence said.“I can assure all of you, the sons and daughters serving in our military, President Donald Trump not only respects but reveres them. And any other suggestion is ridiculous.”
Harris ducks questions about court packing Harris ducked several questions about whether a Biden-Harris administration would try to “pack” the Supreme Court to dilute what could become a solid conservative majority on the court.
“People are voting right now, they would like to know if you and Joe Biden are going to pack the Supreme Court if you don’t get your way in this nomination,” Vice President Mike Pence demanded of Harris during the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, referencing the pending nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court that is all but certain to be pushed through in the three weeks before Election Day.
Harris sidestepped the question just as Biden has done in the weeks since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and Trump vowed to confirm a replacement. Biden is on record before September as opposing packing the court.
“I’m so glad we went through a little history lesson. Let’s do that a little more,” Harris responded to one of Pence’s first attempts to pin her down on the question, which included noting that the court has had its current makeup of nine justices for around 150 years.
Pence seized on what he called a “nonanswer” from Harris, looking directly into the camera and asserting that “if you haven’t figured it out yet, the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election.”
“Yeah, let’s talk about packing the court, then,” Harris retorted, accusing the Trump administration of filling lower courts with judges who are “purely ideological.”
Pence, Harris spar over protests for racial justice Pence criticized the damage caused by rioting and looting this summer when asked about justice for Black Americans killed by police.
“Our heart breaks for the loss of any innocent American life … but there’s no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed,” Pence said. “It really is astonishing.”
He also reiterated the Trump administration’s support for law enforcement. “We don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement, improving public safety and supporting our African American neighbors and minorities,” he said.
Asked the same question, Harris spoke specifically about the goal of Breonna Taylor, a resident of Louisville, Ky., to become a nurse and the need for policy reform. Taylor was killed by police in a drug raid gone wrong in March.
“We’re never going to condone violence,” she said. “But we always must fight for the values that we hold dear, including the fight for our ideals.”
Pence sidesteps question about peaceful transfer of power Pence skirted a question about whether Trump would accept the results of the election if he lost.
“If we have a free and fair election, we know we‘re going to have confidence in it, and I believe in my heart that President Trump will be reelected for four more years,“ Pence said.
Trump has come under fire for not directly stating that he would step aside if he lost — a position that has caused considerable heartburn for the GOP. The president has implied that he would lose only if the deck is stacked unfairly against him, and he has accused Democrats of trying to steal the election from him.
The integrity of November’s election is under considerable scrutiny because of the expected crush of votes by mail and other changes as a result of holding an election in the middle of a public health pandemic.
Trump and his Republican allies have filed a host of legal challenges across the country seeking to block some of these changes, and Trump has repeatedly said that voting by mail is rife with the potential for fraud and abuse.
Pence defended those lawsuits, adding that they are designed to prevent Democrats from “changing the rules.“ He also accused Democrats of spending “the last three and a half years trying to overturn the results of the last election.“
Fly becomes breakout star of the debate An uninvited guest stole the spotlight for a portion of the debate: a fly that perched upon Pence’s hair.
The fly remained on the vice president’s head for about two minutes. As Harris and Pence spoke about racial justice and police brutality, it did not budge, nor did Pence acknowledge its presence.
It eventually flew away on its own, leaving as quietly as it had arrived.
The black fly was hard to miss against Pence’s white hair and immediately captivated social media. Within minutes, it had its own Twitter persona.
“Everyone jealous because I got the best seat for the debate tonight,” tweeted @MikePenceFly.
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