Pence, Harris wield policy, COVID-19 to contrast Trump, Biden in debate.

Vice President Mike Pence listens as Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the vice presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. (Justin Sullivan/Pool via AP)

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver 

Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris used Wednesday’s debate to describe competing national agendas, boast about starkly different presidential candidates and deliver a largely civil discussion compared with last week’s ugly cage match between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. 

“Please vote. Vote early,” Harris urged Americans at the end of 90 minutes. 

Pence, on defense following Trump’s hectoring performance in Cleveland, took aim at the career records of Biden and Harris to cast the pair as liberals who would raise taxes, adopt “radical” environmental policies, oppose law enforcement, “surrender to China,” and defend abortion on demand. 

Harris, a former prosecutor, who, like the vice president, turned to speak directly to the camera from the stage in Salt Lake City, presented evidence that she said proves the “ineptitude” and “incompetence” of the Trump administration in its response to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting recession that has left tens of millions of people without jobs. 

“They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you,” she said of the period in February when Trump later conceded he publicly downplayed the severity of the contagion as it began to spread. “They don’t have a plan.” 

The Hill: Coronavirus takes center stage in vice presidential debate. 

The Washington Post: Pence and Harris clash under the shadow of a surging pandemic. 

Pence, who repeatedly blew through time limits moderator Susan Page of USA Today attempted to impose, defended the White House coronavirus task force he leads and argued that Trump’s decision not to comply with federal guidelines for masks and social distancing showed he “trusts the American people to make the best decisions” for their own health. 

The Hill: Pence, Harris dodge direct answers in policy-focused debate. 

Distanced more than 12 feet from Harris through two barriers of clear plexiglass as a virus precaution, the vice president attempted to glide past Trump’s infection with COVID-19 by asserting that an effective vaccine will be available “before the end of the year.” Most experts and pharmaceutical companies working on clinical trials of potential vaccines believe it will be next year before a breakthrough drug can be widely distributed. 

Reuters: With Trump ailing, a steady Pence tries to keep the campaign afloat. 

Harris, in response to a question, said she would be willing to be inoculated when a vaccine is recommended by Anthony Fauci, a virologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, but not if touted by Trump. She said the president “doesn’t understand what it is to be honest.” An unsmiling Pence twice admonished Harris that she was welcome to her own opinions but “not your own facts.” Throughout, Harris smiled indulgently at Pence, shook her head without furrowing her brow and shut down interruptions by admonishing Pence that she was speaking.

 The Hill: Harris, Pence spar over COVID-19 vaccine. 

Niall Stanage: Five takeaways from the vice presidential debate. 

The California senator accused the president and Pence of “a pattern” of hostility to science, whether as a foundation for public health policy or the “existential threat” from climate change. 

Harris used the discussion of the pandemic to warn Americans that COVID-19 leaves many of those it infects with lingering health problems and conditions that insurance companies would try not to cover if not for provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. She said Trump and Pence support a challenge before the Supreme Court to overturn the law’s protections for patients amid the worst public health crisis in a generation.   

If you have a preexisting condition, they’re coming for you,” Harris said, gazing into the camera. Pence shook his head. “Trump and I have a plan,” he said, offering no details of a replacement for ObamaCare, which Republicans have failed to produce, despite a decade of promises. 

The Associated Press: Pence, Harris spar over COVID-19 in vice presidential debate. 

Dan Balz: In the VP debate, Trump is again the issue as Pence tries to change the focus. 

The vice president accused the Biden campaign of supporting the Democrats’ Green New Deal and an outright ban on fracking, neither of which is true. After the two running mates weighed in on climate science and its merits, Pence charged multiple times that Biden wants to end fracking, which involves extracting oil and gas deposits by fracturing subterranean rock with liquid at high pressure. Harris denied any such position, although Biden calls for a transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy. 

“I will repeat, and the American people know that Joe Biden will not ban fracking, That is a fact. That is a fact,” Harris said. 

Fracking was a point of contention during the Democratic primaries as progressives championed wind and renewable energy sources. Fracking is an important job producer in Western Pennsylvania, and Biden, who was born in the state, is determined to put Pennsylvania and its 20 Electoral College votes in his win column on Nov. 3 (The Hill).  

Social justice and race also became a point of contention during the Utah event. After Harris argued that justice was not served in the case of the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor, the vice president, after offering sympathies to the Taylor family, said he trusted the judicial system, which he asserted did not err in handling her case.  

“It really is remarkable that, as a former prosecutor, you would assume that an impaneled grand jury, looking at all the evidence, got it wrong,” Pence told Harris, pivoting to decry the riots that have broken out across the country in the aftermath of the shootings of Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake. 

Pence added that it is a “great insult” to police officers to argue that there is implicit racial bias in the ranks of law enforcement (The New York Times). 

Pence’s debate performance received high marks from his running mate, as the president weighed in roughly halfway through Wednesday’s debate. 

“Mike Pence is doing GREAT! She is a gaffe machine,” Trump tweeted. 

The Hill: Harris: “Insulting” to suggest she or Biden would attack someone for their faith. 

The Hill: Harris makes Trump’s taxes an issue during debate. 

The Hill: Biden campaign fundraises off of fly on Pence’s hair. 

Trump and Biden are scheduled to return to the debate stage a week from today in Miami for Round 2 of their debate trilogy. The X-factor remains the president’s health as he continues to recover from COVID-19. Today Trump marks a week since he announced he tested positive for the virus. 

The Florida debate will follow a town-hall format, which four years ago spawned images of Trump looming in the background as Hillary Clinton answered questions. C-SPAN’s Steve Scully will handle moderating duties. 

Karl Rove: In a town-hall debate, the winner is often who keeps his cool, attacks indirectly. 

The Hill: Harris accuses Trump of promoting voter suppression. 

Politico: The VP debate offers the nation a glimpse of a post-Trump future.

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