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At the VP debate: civility shown, distinctions drawn

Kamala Harris and Mike Pence are pictured during Wednesday night's Vice Presidential debate. Photo: CNN

SALT LAKE CITY — Arguably, the debate Wednesday night between vice presidential Democratic candidate Kamala Harris and Republican Vice President Mike Pence was what Americans expected to see.

A debate marked by coronavirus

Onstage at Kingsbury Hall, on the campus of the University of Utah, Harris and Pence were seated and separated by plexiglass. The debate was moderated by Susan Page, the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today.

As with the first presidential debate weeks before, there was no handshake.

But on at least one occasion, Pence and Harris exchanged personal civil comments. Pence acknowledged what it felt like to be asked to run as Vice President of the United States, a topic that Senator Harris had addressed moments before. And he praised Harris for the accomplishment.

Beyond that, though, the candidates had good answers for tough questions, each using the moderator’s questions to attempt to make a distinction between Republican and Democratic party views on issues ranging from taxes, the United States economy, job creation, wages, climate change, foreign policy, and the judiciary branch of American government.

Moments of contention

There were a few moments that were more contentious between the pair. Pence accused Harris of being untruthful when she said if you have a pre-existing condition, “They are coming for you.” 

“Senator Harris, you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts,” Pence said. 

The candidates also sparred over the environment. 

Pence touted President Trump’s recent signing of The Great American Outdoors Act to fix our National Parks and defended the administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. 

“The United States has reduced CO2 more than countries that are still in the Paris Climate Accord, but we’ve done it through innovation,” Pence said. 

While Harris said Joe Biden would not ban fracking, she also claimed their plan would create 7 million jobs, many of them in clean energy. 

“The West Coast of this country is burning, including my home state of California. Joe sees what is happening on the Gulf States, which are being battered by storms,” Harris said. “Joe believes, again, in science.”   

But the topic that garnered the most discussion was the global COVID-19 pandemic. Harris claimed that the Trump administration had no plan, and acted too late to enact changes that might slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States.

“They knew on Jan. 28 what was happening, and they didn’t tell you,” Harris said. “And today, they still don’t have a plan.” 

To that, Pence noted the closing of American borders and the suspension of travel from China. These two acts, according to Pence, bought the Trump administration time to begin to enact a plan.

He also credited the American people for doing their part to fight the virus, stressing he favors personal responsibility over government mandates for things like the wearing of face coverings. 

“One life lost is too many. But the American people, I believe, deserve credit for the sacrifices they have made,” Pence said. 

The final word: a local question

The final question came from an eighth grade student in Springville who won an essay contest. 

“If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?” Page asked on behalf of Brecklynn Brown, a student at Springville Junior High. “Your examples could make all the difference to bring us together.” 

Both candidates seemed to appreciate the question from a young constituent. 

Pence pointed to the friendship of political opposites but colleagues and friends, the late Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as proof we can disagree and still get along. 

“When the debate is over, we come together as Americans,” he said. 

Harris promised a better tomorrow. 

“When you think of the future, it will be bright,” she said.