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Harris vs. Pence: Vice presidential debate updates and analysis

Wednesday's vice presidential debate comes less than a week after Trump announced he had tested positive for Covid-19.

Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris faced off in a heated debate Wednesday night, their first and only matchup.

The 90-minute debate started shortly after 9 p.m. ET at the University of Utah's Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City.

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading more on the debate here.

The coronavirus pandemic was a prominent topic at the debate, which came less than a week after President Donald Trump was diagnosed with Covid-19. As head of the White House coronavirus task force, Pence has faced criticism over the administration's response to the pandemic.

Read highlights from the debate, including fact-checks, takeaways and who some experts think won.

Pence's nonanswer on abortion raises eyebrows

Asked a direct question about what he'd want his home state of Indiana to do if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Pence dodged. Pence's stance on the issue has been clear for years — he's a staunch opponent of abortion rights. 

Yet, he seemed reticent to address that topic, even though Trump has repeatedly made the subject part of his attacks on Biden and Harris

Fact check: Did Harris attack a judicial nominee for being a member of Knights of Columbus?

Pence accused Harris of having "attacked" a judicial nominee "because they were a member of the Catholic Knights of Columbus, just because the Knights of Columbus holds pro-life views." 

In December 2018, Harris asked pointed written questions to a judicial nominee about stances the Catholic group Knights of Columbus has held on abortion and same-sex marriage — beliefs shared by many conservative Catholics.

On a written questionnaire for Brian C. Buescher, who was nominated to serve on the U.S District Court in the District of Nebraska, Harris asked about beliefs held by the group, which she described as “an all-male society comprised primarily of Catholic men.”

“Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?” she asked in one question.

“Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when you joined the organization?” she asked in another.

In his written responses, Buescher replied that he joined the organization when he was 18 years old and did not recall if the group had taken a position on either issue at that time.

“My membership has involved participation in charitable and community events in local Catholic parishes,” he said.

Buescher also added that he was not involved in the group’s policymaking.  

“I have not been involved with drafting policies or positions on behalf of the Knights of Columbus, nor have I been involved in making decisions regarding the activities of the national or international organization,” he said.

Harris was not the only Democrat on the committee to ask about the Knights of Columbus; Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii also pursued a similar line of questioning to the same nominee.

Fact check: Was Harris 2019’s ‘most liberal member’ of the Senate?

“Newsweek magazine said that Kamala Harris was the most liberal member of the United States Senate in 2019 — more liberal than Bernie Sanders, more liberal than any of the others in the United States Senate,” Pence said.

The vice president got the ranker wrong here. Newsweek didn’t rank members, though the magazine did report on the website GovTrack’s ranking. That website did rank Harris as having the most liberal ideology in 2019, based on analysis of the bills she sponsored with other members, not by reviewing or ranking her individual ideology on the issues.

It's worth noting that over a longer period of time — from 2015 to 2020, for example — Sanders is ranked as more liberal.

Harris doesn't say whether she and Biden support packing the Supreme Court

Pence accused Biden and Harris of wanting to "pack the court" if they're elected, which means to add more seats to the Supreme Court. 

Asked whether they would seek to do so, Harris didn't directly answer. 

"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," she said. 

"I just want the record to reflect she never answered the question," Pence said as they moved on to the next topic.

Trump leads mentions, followed by Covid. Here's the breakdown.

What's being talked about the most at the debate tonight? We're breaking it down mention-by-mention. (As of 10:15 p.m.)

Trump: 649 mentions

Covid-19: 595

Economy: 428

Supreme Court: 282

Foreign policy: 237

Biden: 235

Climate change: 178

Vice President: 120

Tax reform: 118

Health care: 108

Race: 95

China: 45

Abortion: 43

Election: 37

Fact check: Pence says a Covid-19 vaccine could be rolled out by end of year

This claim, which Pence made a bit earlier on in the debate, is true. On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration released guidelines for Covid-19 vaccine makers, stating that the companies would need to track tens of thousands of study participants for at least two months to look for any possible safety issues before the agency would consider authorization.

Given the timeline of when phase 3 clinical trials began, the new guidance indicates that the earliest a Covid-19 vaccine might get an emergency use authorization would be the end of November. At the same time, drug companies are manufacturing doses of their vaccines so that they will be ready to go if they receive authorization. One company, Moderna, says it is on track to produce 20 million doses by the end of the year, according to CNBC

Later, Pence said that five vaccines have entered phase 3 trials in the U.S. He's off by one. Only four have made it to phase 3 so far: Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca. However, the AstraZeneca trial is currently paused in the U.S., following reports of an adverse event in a U.K. participant.

Women react to Harris being interrupted by Pence

Women on Twitter are reacting to Harris being interrupted by Pence, identifying with being talked over by a man.

Harris calls out Pence for 'insulting' attack on her and Biden's faith

The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court veered off into talk of religious liberty and faith. Pence suggested that the opposition to Barrett is based on hostility to her faith. 

Harris shot back, noting that Biden would be only the second practicing Catholic president if elected (after JFK). It's an interesting rebuttal, because Pence has often talked openly and unapologetically about his faith to draw a contrast with Democrats' support for policies such as same-sex marriage and abortion. 

"Joe and I are both people of faith, and it is insulting to suggest we do not respect faith," she said. 

Harris calls out Trump’s reported derision of the American armed forces

Harris called out the reporting that Trump referred to members of the armed forces as “suckers” and “losers.” 

But she didn’t only hit on that moment, referring to the counterattack Iran made on American soldiers in Iraq in which service members experienced traumatic brain injuries. Trump reportedly described their pain as “headaches.” She also mentioned that Trump said Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, didn’t deserve to be called a war hero because he was a prisoner of war.

The toughest hit, however, came at the end when she brought up that Russia had allegedly put bounties on the heads of American soldiers in the Middle East — going so far as to define what “bounty” means — and noted that the president had spoken to Putin six times and never brought up the issue.

“Joe Biden would never do that,” she said. “Joe Biden would hold Russia to account.”