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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.

844d ago / 2:30 AM UTC

Fact check: Pence says Trump 'cut taxes across the board'

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This claim from Pence a bit earlier is true, but he’s leaving out key details when he emphasized the gains made by "hard-working, blue-collar Americans.”

Yes, working families likely did get a modest tax cut in the tax reform Trump signed into law in 2017, but the biggest beneficiaries of the tax bill are corporations, which have permanent cuts while individual tax cuts expire in 2025.

844d ago / 2:30 AM UTC

Fact check: Did Harris co-sponsor Green New Deal, and does Biden support it?

The Green New Deal came up frequently during the debate, with Pence pointing out that Harris was “the first Senate co-sponsor of the Green New Deal” and that the proposal “is on their campaign website.”

These claims are both true.

The Green New Deal is an ambitious and comprehensive environmental justice policy plan supported by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. In her capacity as California’s junior senator, Harris was a co-sponsor of the original bill. 

And while Biden doesn't explicitly support the Green New Deal, his own plans borrow very heavily from it — making his aggressive denials ring false.

Over the summer, Biden released a $2 trillion plan that emphasized building new energy-efficient infrastructure projects and cutting fossil fuel emissions. 

Under his plan, Biden would, if elected, increase clean energy use in various areas (including transportation, electricity and buildings) and have the U.S. achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The plan would also create 10 million clean energy jobs, according to his campaign website, with a focus on renewable energy, small nuclear reactors and grid energy storage, among other initiatives.

Biden's plans adopt many of the same pillars of the Green New Deal. And as Pence noted, one of his campaign documents even says, "Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face." Biden's plans would, however, omit some of the Green New Deal's more controversial elements, such as "Medicare for All," a federal jobs guarantee and a strict zero-carbon emissions mandate.

844d ago / 2:29 AM UTC

Breonna Taylor focus of question about racial inequality

The death of Breonna Taylor, the Black woman who was killed in March during a police raid at her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, became a focal point of tonight's debate.

When asked whether justice was served after none of the officers involved were indicted in direct connection with Taylor's death, Harris said it was not, and she talked broadly about systematic racism in the country and the justice system, including the death of George Floyd. 

Harris said Taylor's family deserves justice. She also said Floyd was "tortured and killed," and she talked about the peaceful protests across the country sparked by his death, which pre-empted Pence's rebuttal about some of the violence and rioting that took place. The vice president also did not say justice was served in Taylor's case. 

"Our heart breaks for the loss of any innocent American life," Pence said. "And the family of Breonna Taylor has our sympathies. But I trust our justice system."

844d ago / 2:26 AM UTC

Fly lands on Pence's head and Twitter explodes

844d ago / 2:25 AM UTC

Pence touts China travel ‘ban’

Pence repeatedly pointed to the Trump administration’s “ban” on travel from China as evidence of the government’s early actions to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but his argument exaggerates the strictness of the travel restrictions.

The restrictions took effect Feb. 2, but travel to the U.S. from Hong Kong and Macao, both Chinese special administrative regions, was allowed to continue. The measure also wasn’t a blanket ban, but rather barred entry to the U.S. to foreign nationals who had traveled to China in the past 14 days.

It’s estimated that thousands of travelers arrived in the U.S. from China even after the travel restrictions were put in place. The measure was also imposed about a month after China first announced the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, which experts have said likely means the virus was already spreading to other parts of the world.

844d ago / 2:23 AM UTC

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

844d ago / 2:23 AM UTC

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.

844d ago / 2:22 AM UTC

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.

844d ago / 2:21 AM UTC

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.

844d ago / 2:19 AM UTC

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

844d ago / 2:18 AM UTC

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.

844d ago / 2:17 AM UTC

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.

844d ago / 2:16 AM UTC
844d ago / 2:15 AM UTC

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. 

844d ago / 2:15 AM UTC
844d ago / 2:14 AM UTC

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.”

844d ago / 2:14 AM UTC

Fact check: Manufacturing job losses under Obama, Trump

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Pence and Harris just sparred over manufacturing job losses during the Obama and Trump administrations. 

Harris claimed that because of Trump's "so-called 'trade war with China," America lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. 

And Pence said that "when Joe Biden was vice president, we lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs." 

Harris' estimate comes from a 2019 analysis by Moody's Analytics, which says that "since it began in earnest ... the trade war with China has cost an estimated 0.3 percentage point in U.S. real GDP and almost 300,000 jobs."

The number is a moving target because it's unclear how Trump's posture with China will turn out, while the Obama-Biden record has been written, but that was the estimate as of late 2019, before the coronavirus upended the American economy. Manufacturing jobs did grow overall under the Trump administration by about 483,000 between January 2017 and February 2020, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. But the pandemic has turned that trend around — through September 2020, there's been a net of 164,000 jobs lost during the Trump administration.

Pence's claim is true, too, by the numbers. But there's a bit more to the story. 

When Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States was about 12.56 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By January 2017, that number was 12.37 million. 

That means there were about 192,000 jobs fewer manufacturing jobs when Obama left office than when he became president. But it wasn’t a decline in a straight line. Manufacturing jobs were already plummeting when Obama took office, and they fell by another 1.1 million until March 2010, when they started to rebound. 

The Obama White House argued in 2016 that, because Obama had inherited an economy in freefall, the administration should be judged instead by how many manufacturing jobs were added between the low point of the recession to the end of his presidency, about 900,000 jobs. 

When the Obama administration made that argument in 2016, though, other fact-checkers dinged it as “cherry-picking” the data.

844d ago / 2:11 AM UTC

Harris pivots to push talking points

A few times tonight Harris has pivoted hard in the middle of her answers, linking together relatively disparate topics to hit on points she's clearly looking to make stick.

In the midst of an answer on abortion, Harris links the topic to women's health — and then back to the Affordable Care Act, revisiting a point she hit earlier.

844d ago / 2:10 AM UTC

Page shuts Pence down after he refuses to follow debate rules

Moderator Susan Page shut Pence down after he refused to cede time and continued to speak after his time was up, saying that he was not adhering to the rules agreed to by the Trump campaign. 

“I really have to respond to this,” Pence said as he responded to Harris about Trump’s leadership as commander in chief. Page gave him 15 seconds, but he tried to continue. 

“Joe Biden … ” Pence said. 

“Your campaigns agreed to the rules for tonight with the Commission on Presidential Debates," Page said. "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. So I want to go ahead and move to the next topic, which is an important one, as the last topic was, and that is the Supreme Court.”

844d ago / 2:10 AM UTC

Fact check: Did the Trump-Pence White House scrub references to 'climate change' from websites?

Harris, during an exchange about climate change, claimed the Trump-Pence administration “took the word ‘science’ off the website” and “took the phrase ‘climate change’ off the website.”

The latter claim is true, the former one is not. 

Harris' claim appears to reference reports from 2018corroborated at the time by NBC News — that references to climate change, greenhouse gases and clean energy were scrubbed from U.S. government websites, including ones under the banners of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the State Department.

844d ago / 2:08 AM UTC

Attacks and interruptions grow

Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence have racked up a total of 125 attacks and 17 interruptions during the vice presidential debate as of 10 p.m.

844d ago / 2:07 AM UTC

Fact check: Would a Biden administration ban fracking, as Pence claims?

Pence claimed repeatedly that Biden and his vice president will, if elected, ban fracking. 

Harris voiced support for banning fracking when she was running for president, but Biden has not — though his position is complicated.  

Biden has repeatedly said he will not ban fracking; the policies he has released only call for no new fracking on federal lands. His policy also allows for existing fracking on federal lands to continue, and existing and new fracking on privately owned land to continue.

Biden, however, has also called for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 — a plan that would include a systematic departure from the use of fossil fuels, which has implications for fracking. Biden hasn’t explicitly said how or when that move away from fossil fuels would affect fracking, but Trump has used the proposal to tell audiences, inaccurately, that his opponent wants to ban fracking now.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a practice used to tap into natural gas reserves deep below the earth's surface. It’s a critical issue in states like the battleground of Pennsylvania, where the practice has brought economic prosperity to several once-impoverished areas. It is controversial because many of the chemicals used in the process are toxic to humans and have been known to cause serious health problems in populations near fracking fields.

844d ago / 2:06 AM UTC

Harris addresses Kayla Mueller's parents, who are in the audience tonight

After Pence criticized Biden and Obama for their response to international terrorism, specifically ISIS, Harris gave condolences to the family of Kayla Mueller who was killed by ISIS members.

Her parents are his guests at tonight’s debate, in an attempt to focus on terrorism and draw a contrast with Biden. Mueller was killed by ISIS in 2015, when Obama was president.

Harris told the family she was sorry for what happened and, with her voice cracking, offered condolences for what happened. It was one of the few emotional moments so far during the debate. 

844d ago / 2:04 AM UTC

This is who's talking about Trump more

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Vice President Mike Pence has spent twice as long talking about his boss than Sen. Kamala Harris has. Follow along with the latest on debate topics, attacks and interruptions.

844d ago / 2:04 AM UTC

Fact check: Did Obama and Biden leave the national stockpile empty?

"They left the strategic national stockpile empty," Pence claimed.

We’ve fact checked this before, and it is false.

Reporters saw warehouses full of supplies shortly before Trump’s inauguration, and former government officials confirm the stockpile had sizable stores of supplies on hand. 

Those same officials report that while sequestration-related budget cuts did reduce the stockpile’s stores lower than they wanted, the national stockpile was far from empty when Trump took office nearly four years ago. They also told NBC News that they’d left detailed plans for refilling the stockpile and preparing for a potential pandemic — plans they believe were ignored.

844d ago / 2:04 AM UTC

Fact check: W.H. could have done 'everything right' and 200k Americans could have still died

Pence claimed Wednesday that, when it came to taking action to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, medical experts including Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci “said that if we did everything right ... we could lose more than 200,000 Americans.”

While Birx, tapped to serve on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, did say this, subsequent models said that thousands of those deaths would be preventable. 

One widely cited model published in June by scientists at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington showed that about 33,000 American lives would have been saved in the subsequent months if 95 percent of people in the U.S wore masks. 

The model was updated in August to show that, if that level of mask wearing occurred, about 66,000 lives could be saved.

The Trump administration has provided conflicting messaging about mask-wearing over the last five months, which has, in turn, sown confusion, hampered the country's response to the pandemic and led to preventable deaths, public health experts have said. And Trump himself has repeatedly mocked Biden for wearing a mask, including at the presidential debate last month.

Upon his return to the White House from Walter Reed hospital Monday night, Trump even immediately took off his mask to pose for pictures before walking in.

844d ago / 1:58 AM UTC

Pence called Obamacare 'a disaster' but used it to expand Medicaid in Indiana

Pence called Obamacare “a disaster” during Wednesday's debate, “and the American people remember it well,” he added. The White House is now pushing to dismantle the historic health care legislation via the Supreme Court

An interesting attack from Pence, as he used the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to expand Medicaid when he was governor of Indiana, though it required participants to pay monthly premiums to receive access to health care. 

About 560,000 people in Indiana were slated to receive health care because the Affordable Care Act allowed the state to expand Medicaid, but an analysis by researchers at Indiana University found that some were not able to access health care and coverage rates were lower than neighboring states because of the requirements imposed by Pence.

844d ago / 1:54 AM UTC

Harris, like Biden, tries to speak directly to viewers

Throughout the debate so far, Sen. Harris has spoken into the camera in an effort to speak directly to Americans as Biden did during the presidential debate last week. 

Harris did it, for example, when she was speaking about Trump’s trade war with China, which she said the U.S. has lost. 

“There are estimates that by the end of the term of this administration, they will have lost more jobs than almost any other presidential administration,” said Harris, who turned to the camera, and said, “And the American people know what I'm talking about. You know — I think about 20-year-olds. ... You know, we have a 20-year-old, 20-something-year-old, who are coming out of high school and college right now and you're wondering, is there going to be a job there for me?”

844d ago / 1:54 AM UTC

Pence addresses talking points that Trump left out

Pence has been hitting the talking point that Donald Trump’s advisers had planned for the president to use on his rival during the first debate, but blew past.

Trump’s advisers left the first debate frustrated by the lack of attacks on Biden’s record on China, NAFTA and taxes.

Pence made a concerted effort to weave those themes into his responses even when they had little to do with the question he was asked. Pence also made sure to call out on the campaign’s guests in the audience, something Trump was supposed to do in the first debate with Alice Marie Johnson, but failed to do.

844d ago / 1:51 AM UTC

Twitter reacts to Susan Page's moderating

Moderator Susan Page is coming under fire on Twitter for not interjecting when Pence goes over his time or interrupts Harris. 

Others took to Twitter to applaud Page’s time restrictions, a major shift from last week’s debate moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

844d ago / 1:49 AM UTC

Fact check: Pence calls the Obama admin's swine flu response 'a failure'

Pence called the Obama-Biden administration’s response to the swine flu “a failure" during the debate.

"Sixty million Americans contracted the swine flu,” Pence said. “His own chief of staff Ron Klain would say last year that it was pure luck, that they did 'everything possible wrong.' And we learned from that.”

Pence's got his details right, including the critique from Klain, though overall the 2009 swine flu response from the federal government was largely considered effective.

Ron Klain, Biden’s former chief of staff, indeed credited luck — and not the Obama administration response — with the fact that the swine flu did not kill more people.

“We did every possible thing wrong — 60 million Americans got H1N1,” he said at a biosecurity summit in May 2019. “It is purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass casualty events in American history. It had nothing to do with us doing anything right. It just had to do with luck.”

The swine flu is estimated to have killed 12,000 in the U.S., far smaller than the more than 200,000 who have died of Covid-19 to date.

Klain later told Politico his comments referred to the administration’s difficulties producing enough of the vaccine they developed, and argued the Obama team quickly adapted to the pandemic — quickly responding and distributing supplies from the federal stockpile, for example — and made very different choices than the Trump administration. 

But it's worth noting that the Obama administration received generally high marks for its response to the swine flu. While government reports after the fact identified room for growth, they also highlighted successes, like rapid research and development of a vaccine that arrived in less than six months.

844d ago / 1:48 AM UTC

Covid, Trump and the economy are most talked about topics so far

Forty-five minutes into the debate: More than 500 mentions of the coronavirus, 354 mentions of President Trump and the economy coming in third with a little over 200 mentions. 

We're live-tracking all the topics at the debate tonight. 

844d ago / 1:48 AM UTC
844d ago / 1:47 AM UTC

Pence's answer on climate change just doesn't line up with reality

A question directed to Pence on climate change and wildfires spurred an answer that is hard to square with the Trump administration's actions.

Pence stated that Trump and his administration will follow the science but declined to call climate change an existential threat.

The Trump administration has taken a variety of steps to undercut climate research, sidelining scientists and proposing budget cuts. Six former EPA chiefs recently called for a reset of the agency in hopes of changing course.

844d ago / 1:45 AM UTC

Trump weighs in, rails on Biden-Harris over fracking

844d ago / 1:42 AM UTC
844d ago / 1:41 AM UTC

Pence interrupts Harris again, claiming Biden will repeal the Trump tax cuts

Pence again interrupted Harris several times when she said that Biden would not raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000 a year. 

Pence appeared to say Biden would repeal the Trump tax cuts and Harris responded, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking. I’m speaking.” 

Pence continued to interrupt, saying, “Joe Biden said twice in the debate last week that he's going to repeal the Trump tax cuts. That was tax cuts that gave the average working family $2,000 with a tax break.”

“That is absolutely not true,” Harris said.

844d ago / 1:40 AM UTC

Analysis: White House *has* spared expenses in coronavirus relief

Pence just said he and Trump have “spared no expense” in helping Americans recover from the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, Trump told his aides to break off negotiations on a Covid-19 relief package. Then, Trump said he wants to negotiate a smaller package of aid.

All along, the White House and the Senate Republicans have fought House Democrats on precisely how much to spend — which has resulted in no money being spent since the CARES Act was enacted several months ago.

844d ago / 1:36 AM UTC

Pence congratulates Harris on the ‘historic nature’ of her nomination

Pence thanked Harris and Biden for expressing their concern for the president and he also congratulated her on the “historic nature” of her nomination as the first black woman vice presidential candidate of a major party. 

"Senator, I want to thank you and Joe Biden for your expressions of genuine concern. And I also want to congratulate you, as I did on that phone call, on the historic nature of your nomination,” he said. 

Harris, meanwhile, said that Biden has been transparent about his health while Trump has not.

844d ago / 1:34 AM UTC

Harris goes after Trump on his taxes

Talking about the difference between the two candidates, Harris touted Biden’s transparency and pivoted to the bombshell New York Times report that said the president paid only $750 in income taxes the year he won the presidency and again during his first year in office, and has not paid any income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years. The president has denied that.

It was sort of a skillful pivot because the news the Times published may have gotten lost amid the chaotic presidential debate and news of the president becoming infected with Covid-19.

844d ago / 1:32 AM UTC

Plexiglass barriers aren't stopping the interruptions

844d ago / 1:31 AM UTC

Harris' facial expressions are a big hit on Twitter

Harris' facial expressions during Pence's defense of the administration's  pandemic response were a huge hit on Twitter. 

844d ago / 1:29 AM UTC

Harris says no to a Trump-endorsed vaccine

Harris needled Trump during a protracted discussion on the coronavirus and the development of a vaccine. 

"If the public health professionals — if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us to take it, I'll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I'm not taking it,” she said. 

It was a quip fueled by the criticism the administration has received for its response to the virus. But it also caused Pence to use it to take a swing at Harris, claiming that statement undermines public confidence in a vaccine and accusing her of playing politics.

844d ago / 1:28 AM UTC

Fact check: Trump 'minimized the seriousness' of the coronavirus

“They knew and they covered it up. The president said it was a hoax. They minimized the seriousness of it,” Harris said of the Trump administration's coronavirus response. Pence is the chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

This is mostly true. Trump did downplay the seriousness and dangers of the pandemic in the earliest days of the pandemic. Here are a sampling of his remarks:

In interviews with the journalist Bob Woodward, Trump revealed he knew the virus was deadly and admitted playing it down.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump told Woodward on Feb. 7, according to The Washington Post. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” 

In a March 19 interview, Trump acknowledged he’d been playing down the threat from the start.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” 

But Harris misstates Trump’s use of the term hoax, which Trump invoked when he said Democrats “are politicizing the coronavirus.”

Asked a day after his "hoax" remark, Trump again said he was referring to Democrats’ actions.

844d ago / 1:27 AM UTC

Pence dodges question about any agreement with Trump on issue of presidential disability

Moderator Susan Page asked Pence if he has had a conversation or reached an agreement with Trump about “safeguards or procedures” when it comes to the issue of presidential disability given Trump’s age.

Pence did not answer the question and immediately came back to the coronavirus and the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.

844d ago / 1:22 AM UTC

Trump's not on stage, but the president is coming up a lot

Are the candidates staying on topic? We're tracking that, too. Follow along

844d ago / 1:19 AM UTC

What's a superspreader event?

The second question of the night has already hit on a major issue with the coronavirus pandemic: superspreader events

The question came in relation to the White House event — the ceremony to formally announce the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court — that is now seen as one of the reasons numerous Republicans have been infected. These events are the focus of research by scientists who are finding that such events can have an outsize role in the spread of the coronavirus.

844d ago / 1:18 AM UTC

Pence tries to interrupt Harris; she shoots him down

As Harris continued to respond to Pence’s answer defending his leadership on the coronavirus task force, the vice president tried to interrupt her, but she immediately shot him down.

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

844d ago / 1:16 AM UTC

Out of the gate, Harris, Pence spar over Trump coronavirus response

It’s unsurprising that the first question was about Covid-19 as the White House continues to reel from an outbreak that has infected several top aides and the president and the first lady. 

Pence, as head of the coronavirus task force, has been sharply criticized for the administration’s response. Harris was asked what a Biden administration would do, and immediately excoriated the administration for the more than 210,000 dead from the virus and the impact on the economy. 

Harris’ answer was direct, even briefly staring over at Pence and directly at the camera, as she listed what she said were the failures of the administration. She called the administration's response, “The greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.” 

Pence defended the response, pointing to the improvement in testing and the mobilization of the private sector to help respond to the virus. He also accused the Biden plan of being the same as the Trump administration's plan, calling it “plagiarism.”

844d ago / 1:11 AM UTC

Susan Page says she’s there to enforce strict debate rules

Moderator Susan Page says that she was put in place to strictly enforce the ground rules Wednesday on behalf of the debate commission. This comes after Trump broke numerous rules during his presidential debate against Biden last week.