Kamala Harris and Mike Pence face off in first vice-presidential debate

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Cindy Pantoja/ The Advocate

By Emma Hall, Advocate Staff

California Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence went head-to-head during the Vice-Presidential Debate on Oct 7. Candidates discussed a variety of topics spanning from COVID-19, climate change, race and the Supreme Court.

The current state of COVID-19

Separated by plexiglass on the debate stage, Harris and Pence were questioned about the current state of COVID-19 in the U.S.

President Donald Trump has been criticized for how COVID-19 has spread in the United States, however, Pence claimed Trump is handling the pandemic well.

“I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first,” he said.

As of this month, the United States had over 7 million COVID-19 cases, resulting in over 200,000 deaths nationwide according to The New York Times.

California has led the country with over 800,000 COVID-19 cases, as of Oct. 15. In Contra Costa County, there have been over 17,000 cases and 200 deaths.

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest national failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said.

In response to COVID-19, Harris said presidential democratic nominee Joe Biden will conduct contact tracing and release a free vaccine.

Pence, who is the chair of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, said the Trump administration’s plan to handle COVID-19 is identical to Biden’s.

Pence also criticized Biden for the 2009 swine flu pandemic that spread in the United States during his vice presidency.

The H1N1 virus resulted in 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Harris drew attention to the COVID-19 outbreak in the White House. With President Donald Trump and several other White House staff testing positive for COVID-19, Harris demanded more transparency from the administration.
Adding to that, she cited The New York Times investigation which stated Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes after winning the 2016 election. This investigation also found that Trump is in debt of $400 million.

“When we say in debt, it means you owe money to somebody,” Harris said. “It’d be really good to know who the president of the United States owes money to because the American people have a right to know what is influencing the president’s decisions.”

Climate Change

With a record-breaking number of wildfires in California and hurricanes in the East Coast, Americans are increasingly concerned with climate change.

Pence said the United States has the “cleanest water in the world” and that Trump has a plan to handle wildfires and hurricanes.

“The climate is changing,” said Pence. “President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to listen to the science.”

During the debate, Pence did not cite a specific plan of action.

Harris argued that Trump is doing the opposite by leaving the Paris Climate Agreement.

“We have seen a pattern with this administration,” she said. “They don’t believe in science.”

As a rebuttal, Pence stated that Biden will ban fracking which he said would result in the loss of American jobs.

Fracking is the process of drilling into the Earth to allow oil and gas to be extracted from shale rock. The United States is the largest oil and gas producer in the world. However, practicing fracking can destroy water supplies, pollute the air, exacerbate global warming, and trigger earthquakes.

Harris stated that Biden will not ban fracking and will create jobs that utilize renewable energy.

Race in the United States

After no charges were pressed against the Kentucky police officers who killed Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black medical worker, Harris stated that justice was not served.

She is among the many Black Americans who have been killed by police brutality and has become a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Pence criticized BLM protesters who he called “rioters” and “looters.” Regarding Taylor’s case, he said Pres. Trump trusts the justice system.

“I trust our justice system and a grand jury that refused the evidence,” Pence said.
Harris recalled the previous presidential debate, where Pres. Trump failed to condemn white supremacists. He then gave a shout out to the Proud Boys, a far-right white supremacy group, telling them to “stand back and stand by.”

“This is part of a pattern of Donald Trump’s,” said Harris. “He called Mexicans ‘rapists and criminals’, he instituted as his act a Muslim ban, and on the issue of Charlottesville where a young woman was killed and on the other side were Neo-Nazis… when asked about it, Donald Trump said ‘there were fine people on both sides’. This is who we have as the president of the United States.”

Biden argued that Trump has condemned the KKK and white supremacy several times. He denied Trump’s racist behaviors, citing the fact Trump has “Jewish grandchildren.”

Supreme Court

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg struck Americans with uncertainty as her seat was left vacant.

Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett as her replacement. Barrett is known for her conservative pro-life stance. Many liberals are concerned about Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court case that protects a woman’s choice to have an abortion, being overturned.

Harris said with Biden elected, abortion rights will be protected.

“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 Vice President Mike Pence,” Harris said.

Pence defended Barrett’s pro-life position and accused Harris and Biden of trying to pack the Supreme Court to prevent a conservative replacement.

“The American people deserve an answer,” Pence said to Harris. “And if you haven’t figured it out yet, the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win the election.”

After Pres. Trump contracted COVID-19, the second presidential debate was canceled.