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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

The Second Debate: VPs in the spotlight

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ILLUSTRATION: CASE WOOD ’23/THE HAWK

Sen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence squared off on Oct. 7 in the first and only vice presidential debate. But compared to U.S. President Donald Trump’s and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s performance, both Harris and Pence were poised, mature and calm in the face of tough questions. 

While there were the usual interruptions and squabbling between the two, the debate was a breath of fresh air compared to the presidential debate.  While a lot more substance was said during this debate, three sharp divisions emerged between the campaigns on separate issues: the coronavirus pandemic, the criminal justice system and climate change. 

Predictably, Pence praised the Trump administrations early travel restrictions on China and its commitment to testing, promising a vaccine “before the end of this year.” Additionally, he drew comparisons with the work that he and the president have already done to Biden’s coronavirus plan. In fact, Pence took the opportunity to dig on Biden further by saying his plan, “looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” a reference to Biden’s admitted plagiarism in law school. 

Harris rebutted this by saying, “clearly it hasn’t worked, when you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country.” Additionally, she took issue with the Trump administrations repeated downplaying of the virus, even when President Trump himself knew the potential severity back in February. 

Conversations around criminal justice reform were just as contentious when discussing the widespread protests and unrest since the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd. The candidates were specifically asked about the Breonna Taylor case, where a Kentucky grand jury decided not to indict any officers involved in the killing of Taylor. 

Pence and Harris were asked if Taylor received justice after her death, to which Pence strongly said yes, and Harris said no. Going first, Harris said, “I’ve talked with Breonna’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and her family — and her family deserves justice.” She called the shooting unjustifiable and compared it to the killing of Floyd, which has not yet gone to trial but resulted in the officers being charged. 

Pence answered, “Our heart breaks for the loss of any innocent American life, and the family of Breonna Taylor has our sympathies…. But I trust our justice system, a grand jury that refused the evidence.” Pence said it was “remarkable” that former prosecutor Harris “would assume that an impaneled grand jury looking at all the evidence got it wrong.” Additionally, he addressed Floyd’s death saying, “I think, with regard to George Floyd, there’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd. And justice will be served. But theres also no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed.”

The huge disconnect between both campaigns is not just the issue of racial bias in the criminal justice system, but more importantly to the Trump campaign, the extrajudicial violence that has occurred in protest. Pence and Trump believe in the current justice system while Biden and Harris have indicated that it must be reformed. 

Finally, the candidates debated climate change. When asked if he believed in man made climate change, Pence answered, “The climate is changing, but the issue is what’s the cause and what do we do about it?” Attacking Biden’s climate plan, Pence said, “They want to bury our economy under a $2 trillion Green New Deal…[They] want to abolish fossil fuels, and ban fracking, which would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs all across the heartland.” 

Harris quickly denied both claims, saying Biden has changed his mind on fracking and Harris unequivocally stated it would not be banned if she and Biden were elected, but the attacks on the Green New Deal were not so easily diffused. 

As the co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, it is extremely difficult for Harris to distance herself from the plan she strongly supports on record. Additionally, as it says on Biden’s campaign website, “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” 

However, Pence did offer an alternative to focusing on climate change, mentioning the good state of the environment in general. He claimed, “Our air and land are cleaner than at any time ever recorded, our water is among cleanest in the world.” BBC confirmed this as mostly true, with the only caveat being that the U.S. is actually 26th in water safety.

Many issues were at play in this debate and clearly a lot more policy was covered compared to the presidential debate. If you skipped the Vice Presidential debate after seeing the first disaster with Trump and Biden, I would highly suggest you watch it, especially now that fact-checked versions are available. 

This debate was the best display of each side’s actual stances on key issues so far, as expressed by the candidates without great interruption.

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