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Wake Up To Politics - October 8, 2020

It’s Thursday, October 8, 2020. Election Day is 26 days away. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Breaking: The Commission on Presidential Debates announced this morning that the second debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden will be virtual “to protect the health and safety of all involved.” Biden’s campaign said that he would accept the commission’s plan for the candidates to appear remotely, but Trump told Fox News that he would not “waste my time at a virtual debate” and signaled he would not participate.

Below, a recap from last night’s vice presidential debate — which may just be the last such showdown of the 2020 race:

Pence and Harris clash over pandemic, race in VP debate

Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris met in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday for their only debate of the 2020 campaign — an exchange that was more civil than the melee between their running mates last week, but likely as inconsequential for the future of the race.

Coronavirus may not have been physically present in the debate hall this time — as it could have been for the presidential debate — but the ongoing pandemic shadowed much of the night. The two candidates were seated at separate tables, placed 12 feet apart with plexiglass barriers between them, a vivid reminder of the health crisis even when the discussion turned to other topics.

Harris opened the debate by skewering Pence for his response to the pandemic as chairman of the White House coronavirus task force, citing the 7.5 million infections and 211,000 coronavirus deaths America has experienced in the past seventh months. “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” she said, adding that President Donald Trump and Pence had “forfeited their right to re-election” by mishandling the outbreak.

Pence responded by praising his boss for moving early to curtail travel from China — although he incorrectly described it as a complete ban — and accusing Democratic nominee Joe Biden of offering no more of a pandemic response plan than the administration had already achieved. “Quite frankly, when I look at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine, it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” he said, referencing Biden’s 1988 plagiarism scandal.

The two candidates were divided on the prospect of a forthcoming coronavirus vaccine, with Pence celebrating the possibility that a vaccine could come soon under President Trump’s leadership while Harris suggested she might not take it. “If the public health professionals...tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it, absolutely,” she said. “But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”

Pence promptly accused her of “playing politics with people’s lives” by attempting to “undermine public confidence in a vaccine,” which he called “unconscionable.”

Although it was the vice presidential debate, the two running mates spent most of the night focused on the men atop the tickets, whether it was defending their own partner’s record or attacking the other. On the economy, Pence praised Trump as “a president who cut taxes, rolled back regulation, unleashed American energy, [and] fought for free and fair trade” and claimed that Biden would seek to “raise your taxes” and impose the Green New Deal. “The American comeback is on the ballot,” he said.

“Joe Biden has been very clear, he will not raise taxes on anybody who makes less than $400,000 a year,” Harris responded, adding that the ticket did not support the Green New Deal or a complete ban on fracking, as Pence repeatedly claimed. (Harris had backed the expansive climate change proposal during her own presidential campaign, but Biden does not support it.) She promised that Biden would overturn President Trump’s signature tax cuts on “day one” of his presidency, although Biden has not called for a full repeal of the measure nor is it clear he would have the legislative mandate to do so.

One area where the personal opinions of the VP candidates themselves did emerge was on the topic of race, when moderator Susan Page of USA Today asked both contenders about a recent Kentucky grand jury decision not to indict a trio of police officers in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman whose home they broke into while executing a search warrant. “In the case of Breonna Taylor, was justice done?” Page asked.

“I don’t believe so,” Harris responded, calling for a series of reforming on American policing, such as a ban on police officers using chokeholds and a national registry of police officers who break the law.

Pence joined Harris in expressing his sympathies to Taylor’s family but reiterated his belief that law enforcement was not systemically biased against minorities, an allegation that he called “a great insult” to men and women in uniform. Pence added that he trusted the justice system to make the correct decisions in the Taylor case and others. “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,” he told Harris, the former San Francisco district attorney.

“I will not sit here and be lectured by the Vice President on what it means to enforce the laws of our country,” she shot back, pointing to her prosecutorial record.

Like in the presidential debate, the candidates’ adherence to the agreed-upon rules for speaking times was a constant issue throughout the night, as Pence especially ran over his allotted time. “Thank you, Mr. Vice President,” Page repeatedly said as she sought to stop Pence from continuing an answer. (In most cases, he ignored her.) “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” Harris said when interrupted by her rival.

But the debate lacked the chaotic nature of the matchup between Trump and Biden, taking on a much more calmer tone as Pence and Harris more civilly debated substantive issues. They did, however, engage in the time-honored practice of pivoting, in many cases flatly refusing to answer Page’s questions and instead coughing up rehearsed talking points.

Neither candidate offered a direct answer when Page asked them about presidential disability and succession — a relevant topic considering both presidential candidates are in their seventies, and one was just discharged from the hospital while recovering from a deadly virus. The VP candidates also dodged when asked about the prospect of an expanded conservative majority on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade; neither would say exactly what restrictions, or lack thereof, they would want states to place on access to abortions in that event.

While on the topic of the Supreme Court, Harris also dodged an additional question not from the moderator, but from Pence. “Are you and Joe Biden going to pack the [Supreme Court] if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed?” he asked her at least three times, referring to the proposal backed by some Democrats to expand the number of the seats on the court if Trump is successful in confirming another nominee before Election Day. Harris never answered.

Ultimately, in a race that has been remarkably stable, it is hard to see how either vice presidential candidates’ performance will have much of an impact on the election. Harris went into the debate with a crush of new polls showing her and Biden leading Trump and Pence nationally by double digits: a 10-point lead, according to Fox News, or 14 points, according to NBC/Wall Street Journal.

Pence committed no glaring missteps, but it seems unlikely that he was able to reverse the Trump campaign’s perilous status, which has been stagnant for much of the race — especially as COVID-19 deaths have soared and Trump himself has contracted the disease. Indeed, a CNN poll found that 59% of viewers believed Harris won the debate, while 38% said Pence came out on top.

Harris’ favorability rating in the poll ticked up seven percentage points as a result of the primetime event, from 56% to 63%. Crystallizing his campaign’s difficulty in shaking up a race that has been trending against them for months, Pence’s favorability rating went unchanged throughout the night: it was 41% before the debate, and 41% right after.


All times Eastern.

President Donald Trump has no public events scheduled.

Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Nevada and Arizona. He will speak at campaign events in Boulder City, Nevada, at 1 p.m. and Peoria, Arizona, at 4:30 p.m.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will travel to Phoenix, Arizona. The two will meet with American Indian tribal leaders in the afternoon. Then, will deliver remarks at 5 p.m. at the launch of their “Soul of the Nation” bus tour to meet with small business owners throughout the state.

The House and Senate are not in session.

The Supreme Court has no oral arguments or conferences scheduled.

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