SALT LAKE CITY: The stage in Utah has been set with all the trappings of a modern political debate: Red, white and blue carpets, a backdrop of the Declaration of Independence — and plexiglass.
The clear partitions that will divide Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris in Wednesday’s vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City are a late addition that serve as a clear reminder that the coronavirus pandemic rages on less than a month before the Nov. 3 election. The two candidates will sit in desks spaced more than 12 feet (3.7 meters) apart, and each desk will have a partition on the side facing the other candidate.
The plexiglass caused a stir: Harris’ team requested they be used after President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly after his first presidential debate against Democrat Joe Biden. Pence’s team, meanwhile, insisted they were not medically necessary, an objection that came as Trump returned to the White House.
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01:55 - Pence's boss is watching and has given him the presidential seal of approval...
01:50 - Climate change next, and Harris echoes Biden's stance from the previous week, with the main line being the Democratic ticket putting the US back into the Paris Accord on climate change. She cites the ongoing wildfire disaster in her home state of California as to why action on climate change is so important.
Pence promises Trump will continue to listen to science, despite the fact the president said recently that he wasn't sure what science knows, and warns against the Biden-Harris plan to re-enter the Paris Climate Accord, which he claims will hurt the US economy with their focus on clean energy.
TOP QUOTE: “With regard to climate change, the climate is changing, but the issue is, what’s the cause and what do we do about it?” President Trump has made a commitment to conservation and to the environment,” Pence says.
01:45 - No surprises that Harris goes in for an attack on Trump's taxes, she says a lack of information on his outstanding debts raises genuine concerns about possible motives for his decisions, adding: “It’d be really good to know who the president of the United States, the commander and chief, owes money to," making reference to a New York Times report showing Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and is carrying a total of $421 million in loans and debt.
Over on the other side of the plexiglass, Pence scoffs and shakes his head...
01:35 - Now the two candidates are asked about the US economy - and as we would expect, Pence puts up a staunch defense of the Trump administration's economic policy. Harris says that claims American families are better off under Trump just "simply isn't true..."
TOP QUOTE: “2021 is going to be the biggest economic year in the history of this country” Pence promises the American people
01:25 - We move on to the fitness and health of both Trump and Biden, given their ages, and as expected both participants play down any health concerns the American public may have about their candidates...
01:20 - The first section of the debate focuses on what a Biden/Harris ticket would do differently to what Trump/Pence have been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Harris' long list of what she calls failures of the current administration makes for painful listening for Republicans.
She addressed the millions of Americans at home, and accuses the Trump administration of knowing what was happening and covered it, "they knew and they covered it up," she says.
Pence, who cuts a much calmer figure than Trump last week and speaks with more reserve, offers up his rebuttal. He says the administration's response had saved hundreds of thousands of American lives. He claims that to say what Americans are doing and sacrificing isn't working was a "great disservice."
Harris was asked if Americans should take the vaccine and if she would. Harris says that if doctors “tells us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it, absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I’m not taking it.”
Pence says there will be a vaccine produced in record time. He says: “I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives.”
TOP QUOTE: “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said.
01:10 - We are now underway with Pence and Harris on the stage, and they're ready for the first question...
01:00 - So after the chaotic presidential debate last week, we are now offered the opportunity to hear what their running mates - Mike Pence and Kamala Harris - have to say about their visions for the US. Let's hope it's slightly more civilised...