Harris lays out a vision, Pence defends the indefensible
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Vice President Mike Pence. | AP

SALT LAKE CITY—When Donald Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, wasn’t ducking tough questions in his debate with Sen. Kamala Harris, he tried to defend his boss by painting a picture of an administration that does not exist. He tried to sell the idea that the administration’s response to the pandemic was exemplary and that the economy was doing well under Trump’s stewardship.

In her powerful opening, Harris, the first ever woman of color and African-American to be the nominee of a major party for the vice presidency, declared that the administration’s response to the virus was “the single biggest failure of any administration in the history of the United States.”

On health care, she blasted the administration for rushing through the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, declaring that it was being done, in the middle of a pandemic, to kill the Affordable Care Act.

If you depend on protection for a pre-existing condition, “they are coming for you,” she said, looking directly into the camera. If you have someone on your insurance up to age 26, “they are coming for you,” she declared.

As he tried, in a monotone voice, to defend Trump with a large fly perched on his head, Pence described an administration totally unlike the one he has been a part of. He described a White House that “saved millions of lives” in the pandemic and a president who had lifted the country out of a recession.

Harris pushed the vice president on the point, saying that “210,000 dead bodies show that whatever your administration is doing clearly isn’t working.” Pence ignored the hundreds of thousands dead on his boss’s watch. He also stayed away from the fact that at least 34 people in and around the White House are now infected due to the White House ignoring CDC guidelines.

“The American people were victimized by the greatest failure of any presidential administration in history,” Harris declared. Reciting the numbers of dead and sick from the virus, Harris added the nation’s “frontline workers,” like doctors, nurses, and meat processing plant workers, “were treated like sacrificial people.”

She said a Biden administration would listen to scientists and support the rescue package the Trump administration has blocked.

Trump and Pence, who is in charge of the now-moribund coronavirus task force, have no real anti-virus plan. Their only “plan” has been to try to force the economy to reopen so big business can continue raking in profits, virus or no virus. As a matter of fact, Harris noted, Trump refused to admit the pandemic even existed, a denial caught on tapes of his interviews with the journalist Bob Woodward.

Pence floated a wild figure that if the Trump administration had not done what it did about the virus, there would be two million dead. He didn’t cite a source and ignored the fact that governors, mostly from blue states, had to step in against the virus after Trump refused to recognize the threat.

“Everything Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and Dr. [Deborah] Birx” of the task force, “told us in the Oval Office, we told the American people,” Pence declared in yet another lie. Many commentators noted that the claim only served to remind viewers of how the Trump White House is currently hiding information about the extent of the coronavirus outbreak within the president’s own circle.

Asked about his boss’s refusal to obey the results of the 2020 election should Trump lose, Pence replied that mail-in ballots were fraudulent and that his ticket will win anyway.

Asked about Trump’s tax cut for the rich, Pence lied by saying it gave the average U.S. family $2,000. The tiny tax cut realized by some working people expires in 2025 while the bonanza Trump gifted to the wealthy and big corporations has no expiration date.

Asked about what his home state of Indiana would do about reproductive choice should Amy Coney Barrett vote with other right-wingers there to outlaw abortion, Pence didn’t answer the question. He just proudly proclaimed his and Trump’s anti-choice views, shared by only a quarter of the country.

And when Pence was asked about the effects of climate change, exemplified by wildfires on the West Coast and stormier hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, he said, with no proof, that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water in the world. Never mind that Trump’s EPA dismantles environmental rules on a regular basis.

Then Pence denounced the Green New Deal. He accused Biden and Harris, as if it were a bad thing, of supporting the GND and costing U.S. jobs.

And so it went through the 90-minute session at the University of Utah between the two vice-presidential nominees. Harris offered facts, while Pence offered faulty observations and tried to portray his boss as a standard Republican rather than the neo-fascist he actually is.

The debate is the only one between the two #2s on the major party tickets. Further debates are in question now because Trump has rejected the decision of the Commission on Presidential Debates to make the next one, a town hall, a virtual rather than in-person event.

Trump said he will do a rally instead and, apparently referring to the debate commission, alleged that “everyone is trying to protect Biden.” The commission is likely interested in protecting itself and its workers from a president who is still infectious. Biden has said he will follow the decisions of the commission.

Pence refused to answer whether he and Trump have discussed plans in the event that the president becomes incapacitated. He ducked the question entirely.

When asked the same question, Harris took the opportunity to describe in detail the vast amount of experience she has had during a life-time of political activity and holding leadership positions including Attorney General in California and now her role as a U.S. Senator.

Harris was an activist in progressive causes at an early age while Pence was a lobbyist for tobacco companies making speeches to people in Congress about how safe it was to smoke cigarettes.

Observers say Harris went far in her performance last night to convince the public she would be ready to step in as president if ever required.

Pence denied that systemic racism was a problem in the U.S. and said he supported the decision by a Grand Jury in Louisville not to indict any of the police for the murder of Breonna Taylor, declaring, “I trust our justice system.” Harris said the decision was wrong and called for a variety of measures to control police behavior, including the banning of chokeholds.

On policing, Harris, who is both Black and Asian-American, unequivocally declared there’s systemic racism in the U.S. and has been for centuries. She outlined Biden’s plan to deal with it, or at least with its manifestations among cops.

That plan, the former California Attorney General said, would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, retrain police in relations with people of color, and include other moves, such as reforms she instituted in the state and as San Francisco DA.

Pence stuck by his claim that there’s no systemic racism problem at all and denied that Trump is a racist. He simply kept saying Trump is good for Black people, citing giving Black parents “school choice,” a euphemism for re-segregation by class, as well as race.

And then Pence pivoted to full-throated endorsements of cops, wrapping himself in the 52-year-old George Wallace segregationist “law and order” theme his boss has taken to the campaign trail.

Just for good measure, Harris, like Biden, denounced rioters and looters who infiltrate peaceful anti-racism protests. She pointed out the mayhem comes from Trump’s white nationalist supporters. Rattling off instances of Trump’s racism and xenophobia, she denounced him, too, for encouraging them.

On the economy, Harris pointed out Biden and his then-boss, former President Barack Obama, inherited an economy in free fall from Republican George W. Bush in 2009, and turned it around, including the rescue of the auto industry.

Pence shot back that in the months since the virus hit, the economy has created 11 million jobs, as businesses claim in Labor Department surveys. He did admit the pandemic forced half the economy to close, and that closures cost at least 22 million jobs.

Pence didn’t mention, of course, that 26 million people are still receiving state or federal jobless aid and that there are many more unemployed getting nothing at all.

“Joe Biden thinks the strength of the American economy” comes from “how the American people are doing,” Harris said. Trump bases his economic evaluation, she said, on the stock market and the 1% “and passed a $2 trillion tax bill” to benefit them.

“On Day 1, Joe Biden will repeal it,” she vowed.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state


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CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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