The first (and only) vice presidential debate—what parents need to know

Here's what happened between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence.

Mike Pence and Kamala Harris debate
White House/California

It has only been seven days since the first presidential debate of the 2020 election but it feels like so much time has passed since President Donald Trump and his opponent Joe Biden took the stage.

And when the vice presidential candidates took the stage tonight for their first (and only) debate, Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence were speaking to a changed nation. In the last week the United States has seen a coronavirus outbreak in the country's highest office. The world saw the president diagnosed with COVID-19, then hospitalized before returning to the White House.

So much changed in one week's time and so much more change is needed for families in America. That was as clear as the plexiglass barriers separating Pence and Harris Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

Here's what you need to know about the vice presidential debate:


Coronavirus 

Moderator Susan Page of USA Today started the debate by asking Senator Harris about COVID-19 and what the Biden administration would do in the early months of 2021 if elected. "The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," said Harris, before rattling off a list of statistics related to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the fact that more than 211,000 people in the United States have died after contracting coronavirus.

"They knew what was happening and they didn't tell you," Harris said, suggesting that if the Trump administration had communicated the seriousness of this pandemic to the American people earlier, people may have made different choices.

"They still don't have a plan. Joe Biden does," she said, but did not get into the specifics of that plan before her two minutes ran out.

(It includes listening to science, restoring trust in public health professional, and ensuring public health decisions are made by public health experts.)

Turning to Pence, Page pointed out how the U.S. death rate from COVID-19 is 2.5 times higher than Canada's.

Vice President Pence pointed to President Trump's restrictions on international travel as proof of the Trump administration's track record on fighting the pandemic.

"If the swine flu had been as lethal as the coronavirus, in 2009, when Joe Biden was vice president, we would have lost 2 million American lives," Pence stated (a claim that was challenged by the New York Times' fact checkers.)

"From day one, Donald Trump put the health of the American people first," he said. Later, Pence thanked the American people for their well wishes for President Trump and the First Lady, and defended his own presence at a Rose Garden event where the president announced the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, an event that is now considered a "superspreader" event after numerous attendees have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

"Stop playing politics with people's lives," Pence said to Harris, before telling his opponent and the nation that there will be a vaccine for COVID-19 by 2021.

When the moderator asked Harris if she would take a vaccine for COVID-19 when it becomes available, Harris said she would if health experts recommend it. "I'll be the first in line to take it, absolutely," she explained, adding that if it is not health experts but the sitting President who recommends the vaccine she will not be getting vaccinated.

Taxes

Taxes were a contentious topic at the vice presidential debate, which came just over a week after the New York Times revealed how President Trump: "paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency."

Harris stated her concern over the sitting President's finances, saying: "It'd be really good to know who the president owes money to."

Her opponent, Vice President Mike Pence, is not concerned with the President's tax returns as much as he is with the idea that Joe Biden would raise taxes on his first day as president (a claim fact-checkers say is false).

"The American comeback is on the ballot," Pence said, suggesting that if President Trump's tax reform is repealed taxes will increase for American families.

Harris says that if Biden wins taxes will not go up for families making less than $400,000, and she criticized the tax reform Pence defended. "He passed a tax bill benefiting the top one percent and the biggest corporations of America, leading to a $2 trillion deficit that the American people are going to have to pay for," Harris said.

Black Lives Matter

In a year when the United States is reckoning with how racism impacts the nation's history and present, Senator Harris became the first Black and South Asian woman to stand on the debate stage and oppose a sitting vice president. That is historic and so was the back and forth between the candidates on racism in the U.S.

Referencing last week's presidential debate, Harris reminded viewers that "last week, the President of the United States took a debate stage in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacists."

Harris spoke about how the Biden administration plans to implement law enforcement reforms, including a ban on certain chokeholds. When asked if she believed justice was served in the case of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT who was killed by police, Harris said she does not believe Taylor's family saw justice.

"Bad cops are bad for good cops," said Harris, a former prosecutor. "We need reform of our policing in America and our criminal justice system."

Pence fired back with a retort that is confusing to people familiar with the history of the United States and the contemporary experiences of Black Americans. "This presumption...that America is systemically racist...is a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement," he said.

Harris later explained that the hate the United States witnessed during the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 prompted Joe Biden to run for president in an effort to end the kind of division and hate America saw that day.

Healthcare

With coronavirus looming large in the daily struggles of American families, healthcare is never far from voters minds in 2020.

Senator Harris raised the issue of the Trump administration's attempt to overturn Affordable Care Act, which insures millions of Americans.

"If you have a preexisting condition, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they're coming for you. If you love someone with a preexisting condition, they're coming for you. If you're under the age of 26 on your parents' coverage, they're coming for you," she said.

Vice President Pence addressed the issue by stating: "President Trump and I have a plan to improve healthcare and protect pre-existing conditions for every American."

The problem is, the administration is not currently working toward protecting those with pre-existing conditions, so fact-checkers flagged Pence's statement as false.

In the America-First Healthcare Plan issued last month the President stated his plan "includes a steadfast commitment to always protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions and ensuring they have access to the high-quality healthcare they deserve."

In an executive order the President said: "My Administration has always been committed to ensuring that patients with pre-existing conditions can obtain affordable healthcare, to lowering healthcare costs, to improving quality of care, and to enabling individuals to choose the healthcare that meets their needs. "

The details of how the Trump administration intends to protect those individuals remain unclear.

Pence was unable to elaborate on how those with pre-existing conditions would be protected if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, and instead switched to a new topic.

[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]