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Pence and Harris Leave Questions Unanswered in Vice Presidential Debate, Fly Becomes Star of the Show

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  • While much more traditional in scope, Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate was riddled with unanswered questions.
  • Both Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) dodged or redirected questions about the U.S. Supreme Court, President Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, and potential situations of presidential succession given the ages of both presidential candidates. 
  • Following last night’s event, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday that the second presidential debate will be virtual. On Fox Business, Trump then said he would refuse to participate in a virtual debate. 

A Far More Traditional Debate

Talking about Wednesday’s vice presidential debate would be impossible to do without addressing the elephant in the room — or in this case, the fly on Mike Pence’s head. 

The fly, which perched itself upon Pence’s stark white hair for more than two minutes about halfway through the debate, easily stole the show.

But that wasn’t exactly hard. The debate between current VP Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) was aboundingly more traditional than the debate last week between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. 

“We want a debate that is lively, but Americans also deserve a discussion that is civil,” moderator Susan Page, USA TODAY’s Washington Bureau Chief, said Wednesday in a tongue-in-cheek reference to that debate. 

Mostly, both Harris and Pence did exactly what analysts expected. Harris pitched the case for Joe Biden, while Pence used Harris to paint Biden as much more liberal than he actually is. 

Main Theme: Unanswered Questions

Like any traditional debate, unanswered questions took center stage.

In one of her first questions, Page asked Pence — the head of the Coronavirus Task Force — why the U.S. death rate for COVID-19 was higher than almost every other country. 

Instead of answering why 210,000 Americans have died under the Trump Administration’s watch, Pence did what almost every political analyst expected he would do: He redirected the question and emphasized Trump’s move to restrict what he described as “all travel” from China in February.

But that’s not exactly true. While Trump did restrict travel, he didn’t outright ban it. There were still a lot of people this rule didn’t apply to

Pence then went on to insult Joe Biden, accusing him of calling the restrictions “xenophobic,” a point Pence came back to a few times throughout the night. That’s largely false. Yes, Biden has called Trump xenophobic, but those comments were never a direct reference to the travel restrictions. 

At one point, Page noted that both Biden and Trump are the oldest presidential candidates ever. Because of that, she asked Pence and Harris if they’ve had conversations with Trump and Biden, respectively, about presidential disability and succession. Again, neither gave a direct answer to Page’s question, and she did not continue to press it.

The same situation occurred later when Page asked both candidates what they would do if Trump refuses to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the election. Neither candidate actually answered the question. In fact, they mostly continued with the talking points they wanted to hit on.

At one point, Page also asked Pence if he thinks climate change is an existential threat. Rather than answering, he said, “The climate is changing. We’ll follow the science.” 

To note, the Trump administration has frequently ignored scientific evidence and even rolled back environmental regulations.

Unanswered Questions About SCOTUS 

In one of the most pivotal segments of the night, Page asked about the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. 

During the segment, both Pence and Harris dodged her questions about Roe v. Wade and what should happen in their home states if it’s overturned. Of course, that’s not to say their positions on abortion are a secret. Pence is undeniably pro-life. Harris is staunchly pro-choice. 

“Are you and Joe Biden going to pack the court if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed?” Pence asked Harris directly during the segment. 

In recent weeks, several Democrats have called for adding more justices to the SCOTUS bench if the Senate pushes through Barrett’s confirmation ahead of the election. For his part, Biden has not addressed the issue.

Like Biden, Wednesday night, Harris did the same, quickly redirecting the question back to Pence in what arguably became the most contentious moment of the debate. 

“Let’s talk about packing—” Harris said. 

“You, once again, gave a non-answer,” Pence interrupted. “Joe Biden gave a non-answer.”

“I’m trying to answer you now.” Harris said.

“You know the people deserve a straight answer,” Pence said, “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 this election.” 

“I’ve witnessed the appointments for lifetime appointments to the federal courts, district courts, courts of appeal, people who are purely ideological, people who have been reviewed by legal professional organizations and found who have been not competent or substandard,” Harris said several exchanges later.

“And do you know that of the 50 people who President Trump appointed to the court of appeals for lifetime appointments, not one is black? This is what they’ve been doing. You want to talk about packing a court? Let’s have that discussion.” 

Second Presidential Debate to be Virtual

Thursday morning, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the second presidential debate, scheduled for next week, will now be virtual “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved.”

While Biden pretty much immediately hopped on board, on Fox Business, Trump announced that he was pulling out of the debate. 

“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” he said. “That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.” 

Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien added that Trump will now hold a rally instead.

According to the co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, federal election laws forbid the hosting of a solo debate.

Despite Trump seemingly pulling the plug on this debate, there is precedent for virtual presidential debates. In 1960, both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon debated remotely on opposite ends of the country.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (ABC News)

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