After a raucous debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden last week that was marked by constant interruptions, name-calling and a moderator unable to control the discussion, Wednesday night's vice presidential debate marked a return to a more traditional affair.
It's unclear whether it will be the last debate of the 2020 presidential campaign. Trump, who is recovering at the White House and sidelined — at least for the moment — from the campaign trail after being hospitalized with COVID-19, said Thursday he's "not going to do a virtual debate" after the independent commission that runs the debates announced that the second presidential debate, which had been scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, will now be virtual. Trump called the format "a waste of time," adding he had no advance notice of the change.
Vice Presidential Debate Fact Checks While most voters don't base their decision on the vice presidential candidates, 2020's contest is possibly different. Biden is 77 and has presented himself as a "transitional" figure to the Democratic Party's next generation. And the president is 74 and has contracted a serious illness.
The vice presidential debate wasn't likely to change many voters' minds or shift the trajectory of the race, but it showed sharp contrasts between the two parties' agendas for the economy, health care and more. Here are four takeaways from the vice presidential debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:
From the outset of the debate the pandemic was center stage. Spectators were warned not to remove their masks. The candidates sat at desks more than 12 feet apart and separated by plexiglass shields. It was also the first topic.
Harris seized on the Democratic ticket's central argument that the Trump administration's handling of the novel coronavirus was "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country." She accused the president of covering up information about the virus when he was briefed in January by his national security team, and she argued that Trump still didn't have a plan to combat the disease.
Pence defended the president's record and pointed to Trump's decision to restrict travel from China at the end of January as evidence that he took the threat seriously. He noted that the Biden-Harris team's plan to address the coronavirus with testing and the development of a vaccine mirrored actions the administration has already taken. "It looks a little bit like plagiarism," Pence said.
He also attempted to portray Harris' criticism of the administration's response as an attack on the sacrifices Americans have made during the crisis, an answer that seemed to fall flat.
Throughout the debate, whether the question was about the economy or health care, Harris returned to the administration's response to the pandemic.
Pence, in turn, touted what he called record-setting progress on developing a vaccine and pledged, as the president has before, that millions of doses would be available by the end of the year.
There was far less interrupting, angry cross-talk and fewer personal attacks than in the presidential debate. Moderator Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, called for a "respectful exchange" and regularly reminded the candidates that answers should be "uninterrupted."
Pence and Harris didn't always comply. And Harris pushed back, calling out Pence when he started to step on her answers or take away from her time. She retorted, "Mr. Vice President, I'm speaking. I'm speaking" — making it clear she wasn't going to let a male debate opponent get away with any intimidation tactics.
Both candidates frequently sidestepped questions altogether. The moderator chose to move on to new topics rather than pose follow-up questions, which was a lost opportunity on some key issues that could have made news or at least educated voters about the candidates' positions. Both ignored a key question that could be top of mind with Biden's age and the president's illness — what would you do if the president became incapacitated?
Pence didn't answer how a Trump-Pence administration would protect preexisting conditions if the Affordable Care Act is struck down by the Supreme Court. He also didn't explain what he would do if the president didn't accept the election results or agree to a peaceful transition of power.
Harris refused to answer a question posed by both the moderator and again by Pence about whether she backed what many liberal activists are pushing: adding justices to the Supreme Court — court packing. Biden dodged the same question in the first debate.
Both also evaded a question about what they thought states should do if the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, which would leave the states to write abortion laws.
Fresh off a vice presidential debate where he sported a reddish, sickly-looking eye, Vice President Mike Pence appears to be charging ahead with a plan to visit America’s largest retirement community in the critical swing state of Florida.
But with the White House battling a spiraling COVID-19 outbreak, not everyone in the traditionally Trumpy stronghold of The Villages will be happy to see him.
On Saturday, Pence is slated to stop by the 55-and-older community in Sumter County as part of a campaign bus tour through the Sunshine State. The VP would arrive in The Villages as President Donald Trump’s support with senior citizens has shown signs of a drop-off in recent months—and with the president dealing with his own case of the novel coronavirus.
Unlike Trump, who is already making noise about returning to the campaign trail, Pence has not announced a positive test result for COVID-19. But the vice president’s proximity to the growing number of White House staffers who have contracted the virus after a now notorious Rose Garden event has some Villagers—and infectious disease experts—running scared.
“The virus was a hoax here until Trump got it,” Chris Stanley, president of The Villages Democratic Club, said of the MAGA crowd’s attitude. “The other night they did a prayer vigil and for the first time, they posted in a big font, ‘You must wear a mask.’ I looked on the webcam and didn’t see many wearing masks, but they now seem to be accepting this is not a Democrat hoax at all.”
Marissa Levine, an infectious disease expert at the University of South Florida, said it was on elected officials to demonstrate safe habits. That category does not include campaign rallies among vulnerable communities when you have recently been proximal to a possible superspreader event.
“It is really important for leaders to role-model the behaviors that are being recommended from a public health point of view,” Levine told The Daily Beast. “In effect, they are flouting the CDC guidelines.”
People exposed to COVID-19 should comply with adequate testing, contact tracing, and isolation measures, especially when preparing to meet with senior citizens, Levine said. “In an area where there are individuals, based on age alone, at higher risk for complication and death, that seems like a concerning thing to do,” she said of a Pence Villages visit.
Sumter County, where a majority of the sprawling housing development is located, has reported a total of 2,593 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. Two hundred and sixty people have been hospitalized and 75 have died—a mortality rate of 3 percent of all positive cases, which is 1 percentage point higher than the statewide average for deaths, according to the latest update from the Florida Department of Health.
Over the past week, Sumter County has experienced some of the highest daily positivity rates in the state. On Sept. 30, the daily positivity rate was 21.86 percent. Then it dropped below 10 percent for six consecutive days. But on Oct. 7, the daily positivity rate sprang up to 15.3 percent. The daily case count jumped from just 14 on Tuesday to 98 on Wednesday.
The Trumpian response to the pandemic has created fissures in the president’s once seemingly impregnable wall of support in The Villages, where an overwhelming majority of the 132,000 residents are white, conservative voters. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Trump won Sumter and the two surrounding counties of Lake and Marion by 115,000 votes in 2016, nearly 40,000 more votes than Mitt Romney picked up four years earlier.
By early summer, Democratic Villagers were mounting protests to counter roving golf cart caravans of Trump supporters. During one mid-June parade, protesters shouted “Nazi lovers” and “fuck Trump” at a parade of pro-Trump golf carts, prompting a white haired man to yell back, “white power!” The scene was captured on a video that went viral and was tweeted by Trump himself on June 28. The president deleted the tweet the same morning.
“There are a few people in every organization that want to be ugly, and that happens here too,” said Fred Briggs, a 79-year-old retired naval officer who’s resided in The Villages since 2012. “But there have been no physical confrontations. It’s just words. When you get to be our age, you realize your physical limitations and try not to exceed them.”
Since Trump tested positive, the White House has been cartoonishly slow to share details about the virus’s spread, especially as it pertains to an event for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett in the Rose Garden that has been linked to more than 30 cases. The administration has conducted selective contact tracing at best, leading to concerns about yet-undetected cases among other officials and staff. Announcements and news reports of new White House COVID cases have emerged steadily for days, and Trump quickly returned home after a hospital stay this week, infamously removing his mask before he went inside.
The Villages’ administration isn’t coordinating Pence’s visit; the vice president’s invitation came from an “independent” organizer, not the official Villages staff, a representative for the community told The Daily Beast, adding that she could not comment on COVID precautions for the event because she had “no clue” who’d arranged it.