With Donald Trump recovering from Covid-19 and concerns over the age and shape of his Democratic rival Joe Biden, the stakes were higher than ever for the first and only debate between their lieutenants, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, which started Wednesday at 7 p.m. local time (3 a.m. Thursday in France). The running mates of the candidates are running for the post of vice-president, called upon to replace the president of the United States in the event of death or incapacity. The pandemic has spread onto the television debate set in Salt Lake City, Utah. Plexiglas walls had been installed to separate the current vice-president and the senator, sitting behind desks four meters away.
With a distinctly more civil tone, far fewer interruptions and even compliments, the “vice-presidents debate” offered a stark contrast to the rat race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden the week before. Admittedly, the Republican vice-president and the democratic senator sometimes cut themselves off in their discussions, but they also thanked each other and generally listened to each other. “I want to congratulate you, as I did by phone, on your historic appointment,” said Mike Pence to the California senator, from immigration. “I respect the fact that Joe Biden has devoted 47 years of his life to the service of the state. I also respect your career in the public service,” added the vice-president. “Thank you,” Kamala Harris replied. What a contrast, for this debate held in Salt Lake City, with the one organized on September 29 in the city of Cleveland, during which Donald Trump and Joe Biden debated in a cacophony from which had even emerged a few bird words!
The management of the Covid-19 criticized by Harris at the opening
Mike Pence and Kamala Harris clashed over the management of Covid-19 from the start of the debate. “Americans have witnessed what is the biggest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” said the 55-year-old Democratic senator, who would be the first woman to become vice president of the United States in case of victory of Joe Biden on November 3. “President Donald Trump did what no other American president has ever done,” replied Mike Pence, 61, highlighting in particular the decision to close the borders with China. He accused Kamala Harris of “undermining” Americans’ confidence in a vaccine currently in the works – while Democrats accuse the White House of wanting to bypass procedures to have a vaccine ready before the ballot.
Former prosecutor accustomed to sharp indictments, Kamala Harris blamed her opponent for the death toll of more than 210,000 which makes the United States the most bereaved country in the world by the pandemic. Mike Pence has been in charge of the White House crisis unit in charge of fighting the coronavirus since February. He once again blamed China, promising to hold it “to account”.
“From day one Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes,” says Pence
The outgoing vice-president tried more generally to defend the record of four years in office alongside the stormy billionaire. Kamala Harris has thus contrasted what she considers to be the economic successes of Joe Biden as Vice President of Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017 to the policies of the Trump-Pence duo, whose term ends in “a comparative recession to the Great Depression “. And she accused the Republican billionaire of leading a policy favorable to the richest. “From day one Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes,” replied Mike Pence.
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Refusing to “receive lessons” from her opponent, the senator also defended Obamacare, the health insurance law that the Republican administration wants to get rid of. A fervent Christian close to the ultra-conservative current, Mike Pence has put forward his “pro-life” positions by accusing his opponents of supporting “late abortion” reimbursed “by the taxpayer”.
Government foreign policy singled out by Harris
These major social issues have been in the spotlight since Donald Trump appointed a Supreme Court judge in September who would consolidate the conservative majority in this key jurisdiction. Democrats are calling on the Senate not to vote on this nomination before the election. Mike Pence urged Kamala Harris if his side would try to increase the number of high court judges if they won, but the candidate declined to answer.
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The Democratic senator, for her part, attacked with virulence the foreign policy of the government, a subject which had not been addressed during the first debate between the septuagenarian candidates. “What we have seen with Donald Trump is that he betrayed our friends and made friends with dictators across the planet,” she hammered. Confined to the White House, the president commented on the debate with a tweet: “Mike Pence is doing very well! She’s a blundering machine.”