Questions left unanswered in vice presidential debate


US ElectionPhoto Courtesy of Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Avantika Pai, Contributing Writer

The first and only vice presidential debate held on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah was messy, to say the least. Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence went head to head–behind plexiglass dividers–onstage to discuss COVID-19, the economy, the Supreme Court and so much more. Following the hostile debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the discussion between Harris and Pence was full of unsuccessful moderation, unanswered questions and untrue statements.

Harris made history as the first Black and South Asian woman to partake in a presidential campaign debate. As an Indian girl myself, I found it refreshing to see someone other than a white old man up on the stage. Not only did Harris have an enormous amount of pressure to prove her place as a woman in power, but she also had to maintain her campaign’s strength, since Biden ranked above Trump after the first presidential debate. Stakes were also high for Pence, who followed right after Trump tested positive for COVID-19. He faced questions pertaining to the president’s health, as well as his role as head of the Coronavirus Task Force. 

Right off the bat, Pence completely exceeded his speaking time limit. The only thing Susan Page, the debate’s moderator, did to stop Pence was say, “Thank you, Vice President Pence,” once or twice before letting him speak for more time. Pence ignored Page’s efforts to control the debate throughout the night. 

“Vice President Pence, I did not create the rules for tonight,” Page said, after Pence kept trying to go back to a previous topic and talk over the time limit. “Your campaigns agreed to the rules… I’m here to enforce them. Which involves moving from one topic to another, giving roughly equal time to both of you, which is what I’m trying very hard to do.”

Unfortunately, the message didn’t come across for Pence, who still talked over the time limit a few times after Page’s attempt.

One of the highlights of the night, besides the fly that landed on Pence’s head midway, was when Harris delivered her iconic line of the night. Although this debate was way less chaotic than the presidential debate, there were still many instances of interruptions. In one specific instance of Pence speaking out of turn, Harris asserted power. 

“Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking,” Harris said. 

Harris was met with a lot of praise. Women across social media applauded her ability to stand up for herself when she was interrupted. Sure, Harris deserved all the admiration, but the statement honestly felt forced. The remark could have been utilized at any other point in the night, but it was used within the first 10 minutes, before there was any trend of interruptions from Pence. She also repeated the phrase later on, but allowed Pence to speak on for extra time. 

Harris and Pence eventually got a lot of words in, though they failed to answer the most important questions. One of the first questions Page asked Pence was why America’s COVID-19 death rate was higher than any other country, and he totally avoided a specific response. He instead lauded Trump’s China travel ban, which had nothing to do with the high death rate.

Page asked another significant question relating to COVID-19, which was how Americans can be expected to follow safety guidelines when they aren’t followed at the White House. 

“It was an outdoor event which all of our scientists regularly, routinely advise,” Pence said in response. 

Pence was referring to the event that was held at the White House, where Trump nominated Barrett to the Supreme Court. While the main nomination was held at the Rose Garden with most participants disregarding safety precautions, there was an indoor reception where mask wearing and social distancing continued to be neglected. 

Regardless of the election outcome, the country’s oldest president will be inaugurated in January. Trump will be 74 and Biden will be 78 years old. If the future president was to be incapacitated, either Pence or Harris would have to take over. Neither candidate answered Page’s question of whether or not the two presidential candidates had a conversation with their respective running mates about their health. 

“Well Susan thank you, although I would like to go back,” Pence said in response. 

Page tried to stop him, but Pence ended up redirecting the conversation back to the COVID-19 vaccine to reply to a statement Harris had made previously. After speaking for two extra minutes, Pence wasn’t asked about presidential disability again. 

On the other hand, Harris pretty much deflected the question as well. Harris told the story of when Biden asked her to become his Vice Presidential running mate, and how proud her mother would have been of her.  She expressed her experience and capability to take over the presidency but still never explicitly said if there was a conversation between her and Biden on presidential disability, like the question asked for.

Page then asked Pence, the former governor of Indiana, what he would want Indiana to do if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“Let me say President Trump and I could not be more enthusiastic about the opportunity to see Judge Amy Coney Barrett become Justice Amy Coney Barrett,” Pence said. 

The Vice President entirely ignored the question, and instead praised Barrett, the latest addition to the Supreme Court, who filled Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s spot. 

The closest Pence got to answering the question was to state that he was pro-life. In Pence’s case, that’s no secret. In no way did his statement answer whether or not he would ban abortion. Following the discussion of Barrett, Pence posed his own question to Harris. 

“Are you and Joe Biden going to pack the court?” Pence asked Harris. 

Harris steered clear of a specific response, and instead started talking about President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to not appoint a Supreme Court justice right before reelection, in 1864. 

“The American people are voting right now, and it should be their decision about who will serve on this most important body for a lifetime,” Harris said.

In the debate, the candidates not only dodged important questions but they also made some invalid claims. 

Pence and Trump have frequently claimed Biden will raise taxes for everybody. The truth is, Biden’s administration would only raise taxes for people making more than $400,000 a year. He will also repeal the Trump administration tax cuts for people making more than $400,000 a year, contradictory to Pence’s claims. 

“President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to continue to listen to science,” Pence said at a different part of the debate when asked about his stance on climate change. 

This is just hilariously false. In fact, Trump has said in response to climate change, “I don’t think science knows.” On multiple occasions, Trump has spread false information on climate change. 

The Vice President also repeatedly claimed throughout the night that Biden’s campaign would end fracking. Biden has said, on numerous occasions that he will not ban fracking, but instead, end new oil and gas projects on federal land.

Even though this debate, along with the presidential debate, is unlikely to change voters’ minds on which candidate to select, students at Solon High School that are eligible to vote in this upcoming election will have a lot to consider. For example, students that are graduating might have to consider issues such as high college tuition, finding jobs in a depleting economy and a future of climate change. Each administration has shown that they have very different viewpoints on how to deal with each problem. 

The final presidential debate will be held tomorrow, Oct. 22. There was supposed to be another debate, but Trump refused to be a part of a virtual event. Biden and Trump will be muted for parts of the event, in order to avoid the constant interruption of the last debate. 

Here’s hoping that undecided voters–should they even exist this close to the election–will be able to get the information they need to make a decision.