“I’m Speaking”: A Reflection on the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate

The first and only Vice Presidential Debate for the 2020 Presidential Election between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris was an evening complete with falsehoods and frequent question avoidance by Vice President Pence and characterized by a powerful female presence. Moderator Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, struggled to contain Vice President Mike Pence to his allotted speaking time. Senator Harris also made some statements that needed additional context, but overall, she respected the debate rules. Below are the key moments and takeaways from the first and only Vice Presidential Debate. 

Plan to Implement New Covid-19 Relief Measures

The first question in the debate asked the Vice Presidential candidates to reflect on the COVID-19 crisis. Susan Page asked Senator Harris to describe how a Biden administration would handle the pandemic differently than the Trump administration. Senator Kamala Harris began with a powerful statement, “the American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” She then listed the number of American lives lost to the pandemic, the number of Americans who contracted the virus, and the impact on small businesses. Senator Harris criticized the Trump Administration’s decision to not notify the American public when they were informed of the Coronavirus’s seriousness on January 28th. Senator Harris claimed that the Trump Administration still does not have a plan. Harris then outlined the Biden Plan, “our plan is about what we need to do around a national strategy for contact tracing, for testing, for administration of the vaccine, and making sure that it will be free for all. That is the plan that Joe Biden has and that I have, knowing that we have to get a hold of what has been going on, and we need to save our country.” Kamala Harris ended her two-minute remarks with the powerful claim “this administration has forfeited their right to reelection.”

Susan Page asked Vice President Mike Pence, head of the Coronavirus task force, why the US death toll is higher than almost every other wealthy country’s death toll. Instead of directly answering the question, Vice President Mike Pence cited the travel ban as a key policy decision that “saved hundreds of thousands of American lives.” Pence continued to attack the Biden Plan, saying it “looks a little bit like plagiarism.” This was a cheap partisan attack on Biden’s academic history in the middle of a somber discussion about the loss of over 200,000 American lives.  Harris responded with the claim, “whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done, clearly, it hasn’t worked.” The Vice President repeated a statement of appreciation for the sacrifices the American People have made in recent months. Pence also used this as an opportunity to discuss how the Biden Campaign “constantly talks about mandates,” from Coronavirus, “a government takeover of healthcare,” and the Green New Deal. In response to the Republican Nominee’s statement about American sacrifice, Senator Harris stated, “the American people have had to sacrifice far too much because of the incompetence of this administration.” Many of Harris’ quotes attacking the Trump Administrations Coronavirus Response resonated with voters and started conversations after the debate.

Line of Succession and Role of Vice President 

Whether Senator Harris or Vice President Pence is sworn in on January 20th, they will make history as the Vice President to the oldest President in the United States’ history, a fact which has caused concern for some voters. The moderator asked Pence if he “had a conversation or reached an agreement with President Trump about safeguards or procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability?” Pence neglected to answer the question, instead of returning to the issue of a vaccine and claiming the Swine Flu of 2009 was worse than Coronavirus. On the other side of the debate stage, 12 feet and two plexiglass sheets away, Senator Harris also did not directly answer this question. Instead, the Democratic Nominee spoke of her upbringing, historical career to date, and respectful relationship with the Former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Affordable Care Act and Preexisting Conditions 

Comprehensive and affordable health care coverage has been a prevalent topic in American politics for the past few decades, with the Republican and Democratic Party platforms having drastically different preferred levels of government involvement in health care coverage. The candidates had a fierce back and forth about the future of healthcare in America. Senator Kamala Harris highlighted Biden’s past by stating, “Joe Biden, who was responsible with President Barack Obama for the Affordable Care Act, which brought healthcare to over 20 million Americans and protected people with pre-existing conditions. And what it also did is it saved those families who otherwise were going bankrupt because of hospital bills they could not afford.” After cross-talk between the candidates, Harris finished up with the powerful statement on the Trump Administration’s health care plan, “If you have a pre-existing condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they’re coming for you. If you love someone who has a pre-existing condition, they’re coming for you. If you are under the age of 26 on your parents’ coverage, they’re coming for you.” Vice President Mike Pence responded by stating that Obamacare was a disaster and the Trump administration has a plan to improve healthcare. This quick redirection emphasizes what Americans have experienced for the past four years; the Trump Administration does not have an adequate health care plan. Republicans desire to “repeal and replace,” but do not have a single policy point after almost four years in office. 

The Climate is Changing 

Despite scientific evidence proving the exponential threat of the climate crisis, the mere statement of climate change affirmation has become one of the most partisan debates in recent decades. Vice President Mike Pence brought up the matter of Climate Change before Moderator Susan Page even had the chance. He attacked Senator Harris for previous statements that she wanted to abolish fossil fuels, ban fracking, and pass the Green New Deal. Susan Page used this opportunity to segue directly into a question about the very existence of climate change. Mike Pence opened with “the climate is changing.” Despite this new statement from the Vice President, he refused to admit that humans were the leading cause of the impending crisis. Pence applauded the Trump Administration’s conservation efforts and claim of reduced CO2 emissions (despite not being a signatory of the Paris Climate Accord). The Vice President concluded with a statement that he and Trump will “always put American jobs and American workers first. Susan Page questioned the Biden campaign’s allegiance to the Green New Deal. Harris points out that Climate Action will create many new jobs in clean and renewable energy. In contrast with every political appointee in the Trump Administration, “Joe believes, again, in science.” Mike Pence is more concerned with a tax plan he has not read than our planet’s future. 

Supreme Court Nominations in the Eleventh Hour and the Fate of Roe v. Wade 

The Trump Administration and Senator McConnell have attempted a power grab with the eleventh hour nomination and hearing of Amy Coney Barrett, in violation of the “precedent” that Senator McConnell himself set in 2016. If Judge Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court, which Republican leaders are ignoring COVID precautions to ensure will happen, the SCOTUS will have a substantial conservative majority, putting Roe v. Wade at risk of being overturned. Susan Page posed the question, “If Roe v. Wade is overturned, what would you want Indiana to do? Would you want your home state to ban all abortions?” to Vice President Pence, who promptly refused to respond to the question about abortions and instead took his two-minutes to continue speaking about Qasem Soleimani. Both candidates discussed Amy Coney Barett’s Catholic faith in respect to her judicial duties. Senator Harris pushed back in defense of Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, saying, “it’s insulting to suggest that we would knock anyone for their faith.” Senator Harris concluded her response by affirming her Pro-Choice stance, “I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and the Vice President, Michael Pence.” In a very contrasting viewpoint, Mike Pence staked the claim, “I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it.”

Racial Injustice in America: Breonna Taylor 

America has faced an awakening of racial injustice since the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other innocent Black Americans. Susan Page asked Senator Kamala Harris if, in the case of Breonna Taylor, was justice done? Kamala explicitly responded, “I don’t think so.” She went on to discuss the awakening that led to the months of peaceful protests, “perfect strangers to each other, marched shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, fighting for us to finally achieve that ideal of equal justice under law.” Many Americans did not expect Vice President Mike Pence to respond to this question with genuine remorse for racism in America, and he did not surprise anyone. Despite the apparent racism in the American Justice System, Mike Pence stated, “I trust our justice system.” 

Peaceful Transfer of Power 

President Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if the Biden-Harris ticket is deemed the winner of the 2020 Presidential Election. This statement has raised severe concerns around the outcome of the election. The moderator asked Senator Harris about the Biden campaign’s steps if they won and President Trump refused to allow for a peaceful transfer of power. Senator Harris began her response by discussing the bipartisan support for the Biden campaign, and claimed that the Biden Administration would bring integrity back to the White House. While Harris did not explicitly lay out a plan of action if Trump refused to leave the White House, she did state, “we will not let anyone subvert our democracy,” and encouraged everyone to make a plan to vote.  In response to the same question, Mike Pence stated with confidence, “I think we’re going to win this election.” 

Key Takeaways: 

Senator Harris speaks to the American People 

Senator Kamala Harris is known for speaking in a way the average American can comprehend. During the debate Senator Harris spoke to the direct impacts of the COVID-19 crisis for most Americans: panic, toilet paper outages, online schooling, and mandated distance from sick family members. While this statement occurred during one of the more chaotic moments in the debate, it highlighted Harris’s universal strength: explaining complex topics to average Americans in a relatable way. 

Answering Questions 

Many questions were asked at the Vice Presidential Debate, from both Page and Pence, but few directly were answered. Both Pence and Harris sidestepped many questions posed at the debate. Pence generally employed this strategy to return to a previous topic, which he felt he had more to comment on. When Harris avoided a direct response to a question, she generally used her time to create a common sense around the Biden Campaign. Overall, Pence and Harris’s conversation represented a debate marked by frequent interruptions and infrequent direct answers. 

Kamala said what Every Women Has Wanted to Say for Years 

Policy platforms and partisan politics aside, one of the most memorable moments from the Vice Presidential Debate was Kamala Harris standing her ground on the debate stage, declaring her space, and proclaiming “I’m speaking,” when Mike Pence attempted to talk over or interrupt her. If the most iconic statement from the Presidential Debate was, “Would you shut up, man?”, the most iconic statement from this debate was “I’m speaking.” Senator Harris made history on the debate stage Wednesday night as the first woman of color to debate for Vice President. The gender dynamic in this debate was unignorable, from Moderator Susan Page saying “thank you” to the Vice President when we spoke over his allotted time to Senator Harris standing up for herself when Pence tried to talk over her. Harris controllably attempted to reclaim her stolen time with the simple statement, “I’m speaking.” The dynamic between Page, Harris, and Pence is a microcosm of American Politics and Society. Mike Pence strengthened by his powerful place, Kamala Harris playing by the rules to fight for democracy, and Susan Page respecting complacency and turning away her power to fight for the greater good.  Women everywhere – chemistry labs, policy rooms, executive business meetings, lecture halls – saw themselves in the moments where Senator Harris defended herself, her time, and her space. 

Full Debate Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_G0ia3JOVs 

Full Debate Transcript Link: https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/kamala-harris-mike-pence-2020-vice-presidential-debate-transcript

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *