Source: Forbes-Tate Partners who manages the We Are Golf coalition in Washington, DC.
Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris took the stage in the first and only vice presidential debate of the 2020 election. Over the course of 90 minutes, viewers were treated to more substantive policy discussions than the prior week’s presidential debate across nine topic areas including the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, and health care. Below are some of our topline takeaways from the debate:
- The specter of COVID-19 loomed large, both in the physical layout of the debate stage and in the policy discussions throughout.
- Even before the first words were spoken, viewers were reminded of the coronavirus pandemic and the way in which it has impacted all aspects of this year’s election. On stage, VP Pence and Sen. Harris were positioned over 12 feet apart and were separated by two large plexiglass barriers.
- On policy, the pandemic was the first of nine topics of the debate. Sen. Harris excoriated the Trump Administration for its response and placed blame squarely on VP Pence as head of the Coronavirus Task Force. She said Biden would put into place a national testing and contact tracing strategy and would make the eventual COVID-19 vaccine free. VP Pence gave an equally forceful defense of the Administration’s actions to combat the spread of the virus, highlighting early efforts to close the borders and promising a vaccine by the end of the year. He drew a sharp contrast against those calling for national mandates on measures such as mask wearing, though, arguing that people should be trusted to make their own decisions on health care. Finally, there was a sharp exchange about vaccines, with VP Pence advocating for quick approval and distribution and Sen. Harris questioning the Administration’s commitment to science.
- With the U.S. economy reeling from the COVID-19-induced downturn, the candidates presented disparate views of the path to economic growth. VP Pence made clear that the Trump Administration believes the economy is a winning issue for them, steering numerous conversations on even somewhat unrelated topics back to the Trump Administration’s record with repeated mentions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). VP Pence argued that President Trump has driven significant economic growth over the past four years through these cuts as well as regulatory rollbacks and cautioned that a Biden Administration would undo this progress by raising taxes in a repeal of the TCJA, burdening the economy with environmental mandates, and worsening the trade deficit with China. Sen. Harris made pointed criticisms of the job and growth losses in the post-outbreak economy and manufacturing job losses, hits to the farm economy, and increased consumer prices from the trade war with China. She argued that a Biden Administration would rebuild the economy through repealing the Trump Administration’s tax law while avoiding tax increases on those making less than $400,000 per year and use resultant revenues to enhance investments in infrastructure, research and development, and education.
- The Supreme Court vacancy—with its implication for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Roe v. Wade—provided the lens through which health care was discussed. Just two health care topics (aside from issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic) were mentioned during the debate: the ACA and abortion. On the ACA, Sen. Harris attacked the Trump Administration for its efforts to weaken and repeal the Obama-era law, arguing about the dire consequences of eliminating protections for pre-existing conditions and calling for an expansion of the ACA via a public option. VP Pence, conversely, characterized the ACA as a “disaster” and promised a plan that would improve health care and protect pre-existing conditions but did not provide any details on how the Administration would execute such a plan. On abortion, both candidates seemed wary of engaging directly on the tie-in between the Supreme Court and abortion rights, though both forcefully defended their respective positions opposing (VP Pence) and supporting (Sen. Harris) access to abortion.
- Both candidates believe the climate is changing, but little else. VP Pence dodged a question on whether climate change poses an existential threat and never explicitly said that climate change is caused by humans but agreed that the “climate is changing” and the Administration would listen to the science. He painted a positive picture of the Trump Administration’s record on environmental and conservation issues, with which Sen. Harris took issue, noting that President Trump has rejected the analyses of climate experts in the past. The discussion on climate was notable, however, for the split between a regulatory versus deregulatory approach, with VP Pence repeatedly likening Biden’s climate plan to the Green New Deal, accusing Biden of supporting a ban on fracking, decrying Biden’s plan to re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement, and arguing that the Biden climate approach would hurt the economy. Sen. Harris repeatedly reiterated that Biden has pledged not to ban fracking and stressed clean job creation.
- The ways in which President Trump and Biden have engaged on the world stage on critical issues affecting the nation’s security drew sharp rebukes from their opponents. Sen. Harris emphasized that Trump’s unilateral approach to foreign affairs has undermined U.S. security while VP Pence criticized Biden’s previous caution in areas such as the U.S. campaign against ISIS. Sen. Harris also discussed the Iran deal, which VP Pence criticized.
- Though the tone and cadence of the debate were markedly different from the first presidential debate last week, several issues were rehashed last night. Unaddressed accusations that Democrats would pack the Supreme Court if given the opportunity and dodged questions of whether President Trump would accept the results of the election if Biden wins left unanswered critical questions as the election draws nearer.