California Senator Kamala Harris emerged victorious Oct. 7 evening in her lone debate against Vice President Mike Pence during the 2020 presidential campaign.
“This administration has forfeited its right to re-election,” said Harris, the first Indian American and first Black woman to step onto the vice presidential debate stage. She cornered Pence on the failures of the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken the lives of more than 210,000 Americans.
“The American people have faced the greatest failure of any administration in history. 200,000 lives have been lost. One out of 5 businesses have shut down. 30 million people have filed for unemployment,” said Harris.
"On Jan. 28, the president and the vice president were informed of how lethal this virus was. They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you,” said Harris, using her running mate Joe Biden’s signature move of looking directly into the camera and directly addressing the prime-time audience. “The president has called this a hoax. And he still doesn’t have a plan,” said the candidate. “This administration has stood on information, unwilling to speak the truth.”
Harris pushed deeper, criticizing President Donald Trump for a “super spreader” event in the White House Rose Garden, a reception for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Few people wore masks at the event.
Since then several key members of the administration have tested positive for COVID, including Trump, who spent the weekend receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was given a cocktail of medications including dextramethasone, Remdesivir, and Regeneron. The president is currently quarantining in the White House.
In a dramatic departure from Trump’s onstage theatrics a week earlier during the first presidential debate, Pence was gracious to his opponent, stating: “Sen. Harris, it is an honor to be onstage with you. I respect your public service.” He acknowledged the historic moment before pushing back, saying the administration had acted quickly, cutting off travel to China.
Millions of doses of a vaccine will be available for distribution by the end of the year, said Pence.
During the debate, he pointed to Harris’s record as San Francisco’s district attorney, and then as California’s attorney general, stating that more Blacks had been imprisoned during her tenure in both posts. “When you were DA in San Francisco, African Americans were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than whites and Hispanics. When you were Attorney General of California, you increased the disproportionate incarceration of blacks in California,” he said, noting that the Trump administration has fought for criminal justice reform.
The two candidates sparred on Trump’s ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’ of 2017, which critics have characterized as a handout to the uber-wealthy. Harris said Biden would immediately repeal the Act on his first day in the White House, and reinvest in infrastructure, renewable energy, research and development, and education, including a tuition-free college plan for low and middle-income students.
“America, you just heard Sen. Harris tell you that Biden’s going to raise your taxes,” Pence parried back, saying that the Democratic contender would bury the economy with an expensive new Green Deal, a ban on fracking, and surrendering to China.
The two candidates also sparred on climate change, with Pence dismissing “climate alarmists.”
“This administration does not believe in science,” Harris said, adding that Biden has a plan. “And yes, we will proudly re-enter the Paris climate accords,” she said triumphantly.
Pence also challenged America’s systemic racism, as moderator Susan Page asked a question about Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was shot to death by police who forced their way into her Louisville, Kentucky apartment on suspicion of a drug deal, in which Taylor was not involved.
“Justice was not done here. A beautiful young woman’s life was taken unjustifiably,” said Harris. She referred to the murder of Minnesota resident George Floyd, who died as a white former police officer pressed his knee into the Black man’s neck for almost nine minutes.
Harris said the Biden administration would not condone violence, but will ban chokeholds, create a national registry of police officers who have been involved in excessive use of force, get rid of private prisons and cash bail, and decriminalize marijuana.
“This was a clear and concise win for Kamala,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, in a post-debate spin room for AAPI media. “She spoke about the real-life experiences of Americans and made the case that a Democratic Congress will improve the lives of ordinary people.”
“She’s done the campaign an extraordinary service on its path to victory,” said the Indian American congressman.
“Harris crushed this debate,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California, noting that Harris spoke of the Biden administration’s plans for every issue brought up on the debate stage.
Lieu criticized Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, noting that — while the president did shut down air travel from China — he failed to initially shut down travel from Europe. “So we had a huge explosion of cases on the East Coast, because Trump was too stupid to realize that, with global air travel, the virus could come from anywhere.”
Congresswoman Judy Chu, D-California and chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in the spin room: “I’m so thrilled to be here on this night when we made history.”
“After decades of feeling overlooked, the Asian American community has a voice in Kamala Harris. It is so incredible to see Kamala shatter one of the highest glass ceilings,” said Chu, adding: “We have someone who acknowledges the contributions of immigrants.”