WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Compared with last week’s combative presidential showdown, the debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris was pretty normal.
Read the highlights below. And here are four takeaways.
Compared with last week’s combative presidential showdown, the debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris was pretty normal.
Read the highlights below. And here are four takeaways.
Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris spent the evening echoing the rhetoric of their respective party nominees — but with less interruptions than when President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden debated.
Sitting 12-feet apart and behind plexiglass, Pence and Harris tensely debated economic reform, climate change, abortion rights and protests against police brutality. They also clashed on the administration’s COVID-19 response and the future makeup of the Supreme Court.
These developments surrounding Trump’s health raise questions about what upcoming debates could look like between the president and Biden.
As of now, Trump and Biden are set to debate each other two more times, on Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.
Biden told reporters on Tuesday evening that “we shouldn’t have a debate” if Trump remains positive for the virus.
For a post-debate recap and continued analysis, be sure to subscribe to The NPR Politics Podcast.↑ Back to top
PENCE: I believe it saved hundreds of thousands of American lives.
The Trump administration often points to the president’s restriction on travel from China that he imposed starting Jan. 31 as having tamped down the spread of the coronavirus and as having saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But that action did not apply to American citizens, permanent residents or other authorized travelers, so it’s possible they brought the virus into the United States.
Also, many early cases in New York, where the pandemic first hit hardest in the U.S., have been traced to Italy. There was no limit on travel from Italy or other European countries until March, when major outbreaks were already underway.
And again, U.S. citizens and residents were allowed to reenter the U.S. while others were banned, making travel restrictions a less-than-effective tool for controlling the spread of the coronavirus. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has told Fox News that the restrictions may have made the situation worse by causing people to come back to the country at a time when the U.S. couldn’t test or quarantine them.
But opinions differ on how useful the restrictions were. Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health credit the travel restrictions for slowing down the spread. A modeling paper in Science found that they may have slowed the spread for a few weeks at the start, but it made no difference by March.
And many experts say the administration squandered precious time because it didn’t immediately start ramping up testing, contact tracing and the production of personal protective equipment.↑ Back to top
PENCE: China is to blame for the coronavirus. And President Trump is not happy about it. He’s made that very clear. Made it clear again today. China and the World Health Organization did not play straight with the American people.
President Trump announced in May that he would cut off funding and end the United States’ relationship with the World Health Organization, blaming it for the spread of the coronavirus from China. The U.S. has historically been the WHO’s biggest funder, providing around 15% to 20% of its budget; from 2018 to 2019, the U.S. pledged nearly $900 million to the WHO.
In early January, the WHO warned about the threat of the coronavirus.
In April, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said, “In the first weeks of January, the WHO was very, very clear.”
“We alerted the world on January the 5th,” Ryan said. “Systems around the world, including the U.S., began to activate their incident management systems on January the 6th.”
Not long afterward, China took the step of sharing the genetic sequence of the coronavirus to assist countries and scientists across the globe in responding to the new virus.
In the past decades, the world has seen outbreaks of other coronaviruses (those that cause SARS and MERS), the Zika virus, the Ebola virus, the dengue virus and the West Nile virus, among others, including some strains of influenza. Each virus had the potential to cause a pandemic, and in several cases, plans were developed by the U.S. and the World Health Organization to stop them.
Public health experts have long warned that a new virus capable of jumping from wild animals to humans could cause a global pandemic and that the world was not adequately prepared for such an event.↑ Back to top
PENCE: Senator Harris conveniently omitted after he made comments about other people on either side of the debate of monuments, he condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and has done so repeatedly.
Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Pence sparred over President Trump’s track record on condemning white supremacists.
Harris said Trump “refused to condemn white supremacists” during the nationally televised debate last week and in 2017 after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Pence shot back, saying Harris “conveniently omitted” that Trump “condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and has done so repeatedly.”
Trump has appeared hesitant to condemn white supremacy, though he eventually did.
Last week, on the nationally televised debate stage, he didn’t denounce white supremacists when asked directly. He asked the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, to give him a name, and Democratic nominee Joe Biden said, “Proud Boys.”
Trump then told the extremist fringe group to “stand back and stand by.” He sparked immediate outrage and later walked it back, telling Fox News, “I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”
He then added that Biden should also condemn antifa, shorthand for anti-fascists, which is described by the FBI as a movement or ideology.
Trump has consistently blamed most or an equal amount of violence on “antifa and the left.” But the FBI says the biggest domestic terrorism threat comes from racially motivated extremism, largely from people who subscribe to white supremacist ideologies.
The events echoed August 2017 after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville where marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” The rally turned violent, ending in the death of a counterprotester, Heather Heyer.
At first, the president said there was “blame on both sides,” referring to organizers and counterprotesters. He then said, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” adding, “You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name."
There was a similar chorus of outrage to his comments, and he later denounced “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.”↑ Back to top
As expected, Vice President Pence tried to attack Sen. Kamala Harris over her record as San Francisco’s district attorney and later as California’s attorney general.
PENCE: You did nothing on criminal justice reform in California.
Harris has tried to position herself as a progressive prosecutor, not always with success. During her own run for the presidency, she faced criticism from progressives over her record. In one notable instance, a prominent law professor wrote that Harris opposed or said nothing when progressives called on her to pursue criminal justice reform when she was in office.
Harris did not, for example, take a position on a state ballot initiative that downgraded some drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. But Harris has said publicly that she viewed herself as someone who was working for reform from within the system and she wanted to be in the room where decisions were being made.
She did make tough calls that were seen as activist at the time, including when she refused as district attorney to seek a death sentence for a man who had shot and killed a cop. She also pushed for systemic reforms, including a program that allowed first-time drug offenders an off-ramp from jail time.
At the debate, she defended her record:
HARRIS: “I will not sit here and be lectured by the vice president on what it means to enforce the laws of our country. I’m the only one on this stage who has personally prosecuted everything from child sexual assault to homicide.”
In her time in the Senate, Harris has been a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform, particularly since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.↑ Back to top
In last week’s presidential debate, questions about voting and democratic values were crammed into the final five minutes of back-and-forth. It was also the final topic on Wednesday.
As NPR reported, on that night, President Trump repeated a number of his favorite false and misleading claims about vote-by-mail systems.
“[Trump] openly attempted to suppress the vote,” Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris said of the president’s comments. Democrats have made a distinct strategy of claiming that Republicans are focused on suppressing Democratic voters.
But Vice President Pence doubled down on Trump’s claims. Despite exhaustive research that has never found evidence of widespread fraud in American elections, Pence falsely claimed that expanding mail-in voting would create a “massive opportunity for voter fraud.”
Pence also accused President Barack Obama’s administration of “spying” on Trump’s campaign — a claim fact-checkers have consistently found false or misleading. And he declined to answer a question about what he would do if Trump refused to transfer power peacefully if Joe Biden won the election.↑ Back to top
PENCE: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want to raise taxes. They want to bury our economy under a $2 trillion Green New Deal — which you were one of the original co-sponsors of in the United States Senate. They want to abolish fossil fuels and ban fracking, which would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs all across the heartland.
Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., sparred over former Vice President Joe Biden’s proposed climate policies.
Pence asserted that Biden’s climate plan is essentially synonymous with the Green New Deal, a set of progressive proposals unveiled in Congress, when Biden has put forward a separate plan from the Green New Deal.
Harris stressed that Biden’s plan would not end fracking, but she did not get into additional differences between Biden’s plan and the Green New Deal.
Biden’s climate plan would indeed cost $2 trillion, which would go toward clean energy reforms and infrastructure, with the objective of modernizing several American business sectors. He also pledges to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
In the back-and-forth with Pence, Harris also did not address her previous decision to co-sponsor the Green New Deal. Throughout the primary, Biden did not support the Green New Deal.
Trump and his allies have previously argued that the Green New Deal could cost $100 trillion, a calculation, now widely debunked, from a conservative think tank. The issue, in fact, is that no one really knows how much the Green New Deal could cost because it is a set of lofty ambitions and ideas, not legislation or regulations whose numbers can be crunched.
Biden’s separate plan has a stated price.
Rebecca Davis contributed to this post.
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PENCE: There’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd, and justice will be served. But there’s also no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed.
This is a misleading statement that has been constantly repeated by the Trump administration.
The overwhelming majority of demonstrations associated with Black Lives Matter and racial justice have been peaceful. A report released last month from the US Crisis Monitor, a joint project by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University, found that more than 93% of protests over the summer were peaceful.
ACLED recorded 10,600 demonstrations between May 24 and Aug. 22 and found that only about 570 involved protesters engaged in violence. “Well over 80% of all demonstrations are connected to the Black Lives Matter movement or the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.
The report also found that even in urban areas like Portland, Ore. — which has seen months of protests — violent demonstrations are “largely confined to specific blocks, rather than dispersed throughout the city.”
Pence also denied the existence of implicit bias in law enforcement.
A study from the University of Michigan, Rutgers University and Washington University in St. Louis found that police use of force is the sixth-leading cause of death for young Black men and that Black men and boys are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men and boys.↑ Back to top
PENCE: Under President Trump’s leadership, Operation Warp Speed, we believe, will have literally tens of millions of doses of vaccines before the end of this year.
This depends on how you define “have.” Manufacturers are stockpiling vaccines now, ahead of completing clinical trials, in the hopes that they will provide enough data to win emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. But a company must get that authorization before those doses can be distributed and used.
Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed — the administration’s initiative to fast-track treatment — told scientists and journalists during a webinar on Tuesday that an early assessment of the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (the two furthest along in testing) could come within the next several weeks, meaning in November or December.
“We are in the process of stockpiling vaccine doses in the single-digit million doses in the month of October, November, and then in the tens of millions of doses in November,” Slaoui said.
By January, he expects there will be 30 million doses of each one of the messenger RNA vaccines. That should be enough to immunize a good fraction of people most at risk of contracting COVID-19 by early next year, he said, “and start to significantly impact this pandemic.”
If all that fell in place, then Pence’s prediction could be true. But companies have to overcome many obstacles to get the required FDA approval.
There is still a lot of uncertainty around the exact timeline of when many Americans will be able to get a vaccine.↑ Back to top
Republicans are likely to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. That would shift the court to a 6-3 conservative majority.
This comes despite the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denied then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing in 2016, many months before that year’s election.
The situation has a lot of Democrats angry and wanting to expand the number of justices on the court to counteract that conservative majority. This is not a particularly popular idea more broadly, and Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, have declined to say whether they would push for that if they won.
In tonight’s debate, Vice President Pence tried to pin her down on it, but Harris instead pivoted to the kinds of appointees President Trump has made to the federal bench. She said many are “purely ideological,” “substandard” and “not competent.” And she pointed out that not one of Trump’s nominees is Black.
“I just want the record to reflect she never answered the question,” Pence said.
It’s sure to come up again.↑ Back to top
PENCE: They want to abolish fossil fuels and ban fracking.
This is not accurate.
Joe Biden has said that he opposes new oil- and gas-drilling permits on public lands but that he would not call for a nationwide ban on fracking. That has been a point of tension between Biden and many progressives, who would like to see him go further.
Biden has said he wants to take on climate change and move the U.S. toward clean energy and away from fossil fuels. His climate change plan calls for “aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations.”↑ Back to top
PENCE: I would never presume how Judge Amy Coney Barrett would rule on the Supreme Court of the United States, but we’ll continue to stand strong for the right to life.
Vice President Pence again claimed that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris want to allow abortion “up to the moment of birth.”
Pence has previously accused Biden of supporting abortion “right up to the moment of birth,” which is not an accurate representation of Biden’s position. Biden supports codifying Roe v. Wade in federal law, which would allow some abortions later in pregnancy under certain circumstances.
President Trump and Pence have repeatedly made later abortions a campaign issue, with Trump pointing to controversial legislation like a failed bill in Virginia last year that would have removed some restrictions on third-trimester abortions in the case of a medical crisis. Trump recently signed an executive order requiring federal health officials to ensure that hospitals receiving federal funds provide medical care to premature infants, including those born very early or with severe disabilities. Infanticide already is illegal, but abortion rights opponents have objected to laws allowing women to obtain abortions when severe fetal abnormalities are discovered late in pregnancy. Trump announced his plans to sign the order, dubbed “Born Alive,” during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in late September. In a statement, the abortion rights group NARAL called that an “intentionally inflammatory term that is not grounded in medical science.”
Pence claimed he would “never presume” how Barrett would rule on abortion. However, Trump has promised to nominate only justices who would oppose abortion rights, and Barrett has a long record of conservative views, including signing an ad in 2006 in support of an organization that supports criminalization of both abortion and in vitro fertilization.
Asked about her views on abortion, Harris said, “I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and the vice president, Michael Pence.”↑ Back to top
Vice President Pence echoed a familiar criticism that President Trump has made of Kamala Harris — that she is the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate.
The charge appears to stem from an analysis by GovTrack, a nonpartisan organization that tracks bills in Congress. It labeled Harris the most liberal senator in 2019.
But the way that GovTrack came to that conclusion is worth digging into.
For its analysis, GovTrack looked at the bills that Harris and other lawmakers sponsored and co-sponsored. One metric that GovTrack uses is comparing how many bipartisan bills each senator co-sponsored with how many bills they co-sponsored in total.
By that metric, compared with her colleagues in 2019, Harris was pretty liberal. But Harris was elected in 2016, and legislation that any politician sponsors is just one way to assess where a politician falls on the ideological spectrum.
But it’s unsurprising that Pence and Trump would seize on this data point to cast Harris as an ally of the “radical left,” a line of attack they’ve been pushing against the Democratic ticket for the entirety of this campaign.↑ Back to top
There’s no other way to put it; a fly landed on Vice President Pence’s head and stayed there a loooooong time.
It landed as Pence was talking about whether police in the U.S. are systemically racist, and it stayed for over two minutes. As he nodded his head vigorously, took notes, talked, stopped talking — the fly persisted.
Predictably, the tweets followed.
By the time the debate had ended, the Democratic National Committee had snatched the domain name, flywillvote.com and redirected it to the party’s voter website. Before the night was out, the Biden campaign was selling fly swatters, $10 a pop.↑ Back to top
HARRIS: Joe Biden and I are both people of faith, and it’s insulting to suggest that we would knock anyone for their faith.
Asked about the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Vice President Pence raised the specter of religious bigotry entering the confirmation process and expressed fear that there would be “attacks on her Christian faith that we saw before.”
Sen. Kamala Harris is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Pence was referring to an exchange in 2017 with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein during Barrett’s confirmation hearing for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Feinstein asked Barrett whether her Catholic faith would preclude her from being an impartial judge, saying, “The dogma lives loudly within you.”
Pence has made his evangelical Christian faith a focal point of his pitch to voters — particularly his white evangelical base. In stump speeches, he often describes himself as a “Christian, a conservative, and a Republican — in that order.”
Harris responded by referring to her own religious faith and noted that Biden, if elected, would be only the second practicing Roman Catholic to serve as president, after President John F. Kennedy.
Harris grew up attending church and going to services at a Hindu temple and has written and spoken publicly about how her faith has influenced her view of politics. “For me, living and leading with my faith means heeding the lesson of the good Samaritan, a story which, at its core, is about who we choose to see as our neighbor,” Harris wrote this week in an op-ed for the Deseret News in Utah.↑ Back to top
President Trump, who has had an active day on Twitter while coping with his own case of COVID-19, is offering commentary about the vice presidential debate.
About an hour into the debate, Trump tweeted that Vice President Pence was doing “GREAT!” He added that “She is a gaffe machine,” presumably referring to Sen. Kamala Harris.
Later he complained that Pence was cut off by the moderator. Pence repeatedly went over his allotted time.↑ Back to top
The vice president’s silence speaks volumes. He pivoted back to other issues when asked about the Republican proposal for health insurance.
While President Trump has repeatedly promised to offer a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act that would replace its protections for those with preexisting medical conditions, he has yet to do so.
The president continues to say he’d uphold protections for people with preexisting conditions, even as his administration is at the Supreme Court arguing for justices to strike down the ACA.
According to the Census Bureau, 9.2% of Americans went without health insurance last year. That uninsured rate declined steadily following passage of the Affordable Care Act. But after falling to 8.6% in 2016, the rate has risen for the last three years in a row.
Most Americans still get their health insurance through an employer, though pandemic job losses have stripped millions of people of their health care coverage as well.↑ Back to top
HARRIS: Donald Trump, the commander in chief of the United States of America, is the first to take the word of Vladimir Putin over the word of the American intelligence community.
Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris fought over national security on Wednesday, and a key issue was the handling of Russia.
The two campaigns differ on several key matters of national security, including the Iran nuclear deal and particularly the dangers posed by Russia.
At last week’s presidential debate, Joe Biden referred to President Trump as “Putin’s puppy” and warned against Russia’s alleged efforts to interfere in the U.S. election.
Harris criticized Trump for dismissing his own intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference in the election.
Former Vice President Biden has been gaining on Trump in national security circles.
Nearly 500 national security experts have endorsed Biden for president, saying the “current president” is not up to “the enormous responsibilities of his office.”
And a recent poll by the Military Times showed Biden leading Trump 41% to 37% among active-duty troops, a surprising shift considering the military’s traditional support for Republicans.↑ Back to top
PENCE: President Trump and I have a plan to improve health care and protect preexisting conditions for every American.
The Trump administration has not brought forward any comprehensive health plan to replace the Affordable Care Act and continues to back a lawsuit that would topple the law, which contains protections for people with preexisting health conditions.
With more than 7 million Americans having been infected with the coronavirus and many survivors reporting lingering health problems, the issue of protections for those with preexisting conditions has become prominent. The protections are an extremely popular provision of the Affordable Care Act.
The lawsuit, backed by the Trump administration, will be argued before the Supreme Court on Nov. 10, a week after Election Day. The suit argues that the entire ACA should be struck down as unconstitutional, all while the president has taken pains to reassure the public that this particular part of the law would be preserved.
Trump has not offered details on how he would do that. Also, his administration has not offered any alternative plan to replace any other provisions of the ACA, were it to be struck down by the high court. Trump recently signed an executive order instructing his agencies to find ways to protect preexisting conditions, but it’s more proclamation than policy.
More than 20 million people have health insurance because of programs created by the ACA — the Obamacare exchanges and the Medicaid expansion. If the law were to be struck down by the Supreme Court, experts say it would cause “chaos” in the health care system.↑ Back to top
PENCE: Notably, America’s hearts today are with the family of Kayla Mueller, her parents who are here with us here tonight in Salt Lake City. Today, two of the ISIS killers responsible for Kayla Mueller’s murder were brought to justice in the United States.
Kayla Mueller was an American aid worker who was kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused by the Islamic State in Syria. She died in captivity in 2015. Three other Americans — journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Peter Kassig — were also held hostage by the terrorist group. All three were murdered by the militants.
As Pence mentioned, earlier on Wednesday the Justice Department unveiled charges against two British Islamic State militants, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh (pictured above), for their alleged role in the American hostages’ deaths. The men will now face justice in the U.S. in what will be one of the highest-profile terrorism cases in the U.S. in recent years.↑ Back to top
It’s hard to imagine now, but just a couple of years ago, it seemed like cybersecurity and foreign interference might be the story of the 2020 election.
Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has upended that, but Sen. Kamala Harris still took a moment to bring up how deferential President Trump has been to Russian leader Vladimir Putin on the question of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 race.
The U.S. intelligence community and a number of congressional investigations unanimously concluded that the Kremlin did. But Trump has repeatedly questioned that conclusion, although he has also tried to walk back some of that questioning.
Trump “prefers to take the word of Vladimir Putin over the words of the American intelligence community,” Harris said Wednesday. Pence did not respond before the conversation moved on.
It remains to be seen whether there will be more discussion devoted to voting rights and democratic values, as there was in the first debate between Trump and Joe Biden.↑ Back to top
An exchange over the trade war with China led to a series of attacks between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris over policies and job losses.
Pence attacked the Obama administration, saying, “When Joe Biden was vice president, we lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs.”
This is true, but there’s some context needed.
Manufacturing employment was already plummeting when Barack Obama and Joe Biden took office. There were roughly 12.6 million manufacturing workers when Obama took office. That number fell by more than a million and then grew steadily to about 12.4 million by the end of Obama’s term. That is 200,000 fewer, but it is also true that the Obama administration did not cause that drop (nor can it take full credit for all of those regained jobs).
Shortly thereafter, Harris shot back at Pence, pointing out that he had voted against the bailout of the auto industry.
Pence did indeed vote against the auto bailout bill in December 2008, when he was a member of the U.S. House.↑ Back to top
HARRIS: What we have seen with Donald Trump is that he has betrayed our friends and embraced dictators around the world.
Foreign policy was not a major issue in the first presidential debate, but it took a more prominent role tonight.
Sen. Kamala Harris criticized the Trump administration for weakening the United States’ standing with allies and standing up to autocrats.
She cited a Pew Research Center report that found many leading nations had greater confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping than President Trump.
Trump ran for office promising to put “America first” and end multilateral trade deals that he said benefited others more than the United States.
The Biden campaign says the president has hurt the U.S. by acting unilaterally.
Joe Biden and Harris pledge to reconnect with the international community. They’ve promised to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and rethink the use of tariffs.↑ Back to top
PENCE: The American comeback is on the ballot. With four more years of growth and opportunity, four more years of President Donald Trump, 2021 is going to be the biggest economic year in the history of this country.
This is a rosy description of the economic outlook.
While U.S. employers added 11.4 million jobs in the last five months, that’s only about half of the 22.2 million jobs that were lost in March and April as the economy slid into the deepest recession since the Great Depression. What’s more, job gains have slowed for the last three months.
While the unemployment rate fell in September to 7.9%, it’s still in double digits for African Americans and Latinos. Unemployment among Asian Americans is also elevated, at 8.9%. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned that were it not for misclassifications and people dropping out of the workforce, unemployment would be closer to 11%.
There are 3.9 million fewer people working today than when President Trump and Vice President Pence took office in 2017.↑ Back to top
HARRIS: The president’s trade war with China — you lost that trade war. You lost it. What ended up happening is because of a so-called trade war with China, America lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Farmers have experienced bankruptcy because of it. We are in a manufacturing recession because of it.
This is exaggerated, but the president’s trade war has carried a heavy price.
Most economists don’t see the trade deficit as a critical yardstick of the nation’s economic well-being. But because President Trump campaigned against the trade gap, it’s notable that the trade deficit in August was the widest it has been in 14 years. The trade gap with China narrowed during the month, as U.S. exports to that country increased while imports from China shrank. China has promised to substantially increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services by the end of next year as part of the “Phase 1” trade agreement signed this year. So far, though, China has fallen far short of the promised purchases.
The trade war depressed crop prices, and farm bankruptcies jumped 20% in 2019. Bankruptcies were especially concentrated in the Midwest, with Wisconsin leading the way.
Manufacturing has begun to recover from the punch thrown by the coronavirus pandemic, but factories still employed 647,000 fewer people in September than they did in February, before the coronavirus took hold, and 164,000 fewer than when Trump took office in 2017.
Factories were in a slump even before the pandemic. After a strong year in 2018, Trump’s trade war disrupted supply chains and raised manufacturing costs. Factories added just 29,000 jobs in all of last year.
Manufacturing plays a smaller role in the U.S. economy than it used to, employing just 8.6% of the workforce. But manufacturing is a major employer in a number of key swing states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.
HARRIS: The president said it was a hoax. They minimized the seriousness of it. The president said you’re on one side of his ledger if you’re wearing a mask. You’re on the other side of his ledger if you don’t. And in spite of all of that, today they still don’t have a plan. They don’t have a plan.
President Trump has not called the coronavirus a “hoax” — he referred to Democrats’ criticism of his administration’s pandemic response as “their new hoax.”
But Trump has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the pandemic and has largely left decisions about the pandemic response up to individual states. The administration did put out reopening criteria in the spring but said governors would be allowed to decide how to open up. Public health experts have called for a better-coordinated national response.
As for testing, the United States is doing better on testing than it was. More than 110 million tests have now been conducted in the U.S. and on some days more than 1 million tests are being done, but public health experts say this still falls short of what’s needed. For a country the size of the U.S., millions of tests need to be done every day to bring the current pandemic under control and prevent new outbreaks from occurring, experts say.
And while the federal government purchased swabs and other testing supplies for states, most public health experts say the Trump administration has failed to develop a comprehensive national testing strategy and has instead largely left each state and locality on its own to try to provide sufficient testing. The result has been a disorganized response plagued by chronic shortages of key supplies, such as swabs, and key chemicals needed to process the tests. This has resulted in large disparities in the availability of testing around the country and often long delays in getting tests and results, which has allowed the virus to surge out of control repeatedly.↑ Back to top
The most remarkable thing about this debate is how normal it is.
Sure, there have been interruptions, barbs, attempted one-liners and misstatements about the other’s policies.
But for those who tuned in tentatively tonight because of how over the top last week’s presidential debate was because of President Trump, they had to be pleasantly surprised to see that a debate broke out.
On substance, the first segment was a tough one for Vice President Pence because he had his back against the wall on the coronavirus pandemic. And you wonder how many people tuned out after that.
But for those who stuck around, Pence clearly thought he had an opening on taxes because Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said a Biden administration on “Day 1” would repeal the Trump tax cuts.
He thought it was so much of an opening that when he was asked whether climate change was an “existential threat,” he pivoted to taxes. He declined to say that climate change is an existential threat.↑ Back to top
PENCE: The climate is changing. We’ll follow the science.
The Trump administration has been nothing if not dogged in its efforts to undo a host of Obama-era regulations to reduce greenhouse gases, from those emitted by power plants to pollution from cars and trucks. As a result, the U.S. is falling considerably short of the relatively moderate emissions-reduction goals that the Obama administration set under the 2015 Paris climate accord, an agreement President Trump swiftly abandoned.
Trump’s dismantling of his predecessor’s climate initiatives means that the U.S. is on track to emit an additional 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2035, according to The New York Times. That exceeds the annual energy emissions of Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada combined, the Times estimates.↑ Back to top
HARRIS: Joe Biden has been so incredibly transparent, and certainly by contrast the president has not — both in terms of health records, but also let’s look at taxes.
Sen. Kamala Harris used a question about President Trump’s doctors’ evasive answers to medical queries to remind listeners that Trump has also been less than transparent about his taxes.
Trump has refused to release his tax returns, unlike presidents from both parties dating back to the 1970s. He has also fought a protracted legal battle to prevent both Congress and prosecutors from obtaining his tax records.
Late last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had paid little or no federal income tax in most years for the past two decades and paid just $750 in 2016 and again in 2017.
Trump disputes the Times’ report but has not offered evidence to contradict it. He also says he has paid lots in other taxes.
In a 2016 debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump boasted that lowering his tax bill made him smart.↑ Back to top
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris said she would be “first in line” to take a coronavirus vaccine if it had widespread approval from the scientific community. But Harris maintained that President Trump’s handling of the virus made her wary of trusting any presidential endorsement of a vaccine.
“If the public health professionals, if Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, if the doctors tell us to take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. But if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it,” Harris quipped when asked whether she would trust a vaccine approved under the Trump administration.
Harris and her running mate, former Vice President Joe Biden, have made criticism of Trump’s record on the coronavirus a core pitch to voters as they fight to unseat Trump and Pence from the executive office.
Trump has repeatedly undermined the advice of public health officials throughout the pandemic, including downplaying the importance of wearing masks and suggesting unfounded, dangerous potential treatments for the virus, such as injecting cleaning products to kill the virus.
Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, accused Harris of “playing politics” in her response.
“The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine if the vaccine emerges during the Trump administration, I think, is unconscionable. And senator, I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives,” he said, adding that he was confident that the administration would oversee the production of a vaccine before the end of the year.↑ Back to top
It’s an incredibly important question, made more pressing by the fact that both Joe Biden and President Trump are in their 70s and Trump is currently coping with COVID-19.
What would they do if the president suffered an illness or other disability that impaired his ability to serve?
Moderator Susan Page asked it directly to Vice President Pence: “Have you had a conversation or reached an agreement with President Trump about safeguards or procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability?” She asked a nearly identical question to Sen. Kamala Harris.
Neither of them answered directly, or indirectly. Pence decided he wanted another shot at answering an earlier question about a coronavirus vaccine, talked about the Obama administration’s handling of the swine flu and the status of the Strategic National Stockpile. He never made it back to that initial question.
Harris talked about the Zoom call through which Biden asked her to join the ticket and gave a biographical sketch of her upbringing in Oakland, Calif., that is a standard part of her stump speech. She also never got around to answering Page’s question.
Page didn’t follow up.
Talking about continuity of government can be awkward, especially for candidates whose sole role on the debate stage is to make the case that their running mate should be president.
This issue came up with Trump in the hospital over the weekend, but White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows downplayed it on Fox News.↑ Back to top
PENCE: When President Trump and I took office America had gone through the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. When Joe Biden was the vice president, they tried to tax and spend and regulate and bail our way back to a growing economy.
The data series don’t go back all the way to the Great Depression, though it is the slowest recovery since World War II. However, more importantly, it’s complicated — to say the least — to assign credit or blame for economic growth.
The Trump campaign often claims that the recovery during the Obama administration was slow. Trump made the same claim in the first presidential debate. Trump also takes credit for the strong economy he inherited from Obama.
As we wrote during the last debate, the Great Recession was remarkably deep, featuring more job losses than all prior post-1945 recessions. The deeper the hole, the longer it might reasonably take to climb out of it.
And, indeed, there are some who argue that the Obama administration should have pursued an even bigger stimulus to power the recovery.
There’s also the flip side of what Pence refers to as a slow recovery: It was also a remarkably long, uninterrupted recovery for the job market. Obama bragged that he presided over the longest uninterrupted stretch of private-sector job growth in U.S. history — and he was right. All of that said, once again, it’s impossible to neatly assign credit or blame for job growth (or lack thereof) to a president — and often they don’t deserve much of either.↑ Back to top
Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., each brought several guests to tonight’s debate.
The Biden campaign said Utah state Rep. Angela Romero is attending, touting her as “a longtime community organizer advancing progressive causes, equality and social justice.”
Harris is also bringing Deborah Gatrell, who served over two decades with the Utah National Guard as a Blackhawk pilot and now works as a high school teacher in Salt Lake County, Utah.
Vice President Pence has brought four guests to the debate, including Flora Westbrooks, a small-business owner in Minneapolis whose store burned down during protests over the death of George Floyd. He has also brought Ann Dorn, the widow of a retired police officer who was killed during protests in St. Louis. Carl and Marsha Mueller, whose daughter, a humanitarian aid worker, was killed by ISIS in 2015, were also expected to attend.↑ Back to top
HARRIS: Can you imagine if you knew on January 28th as opposed to March 20th, what they knew what you might have done to prepare? They knew and they covered it up.
Sen. Kamala Harris attacked the president and vice president on their handling of the coronavirus, charging that the administration was not straight with the American people about the extent of the dangers.
Thanks to journalist Bob Woodward, she said, Americans know the Trump administration kept back key information about the dangers of the virus.
According to Woodward, an associate editor at The Washington Post, Trump admitted downplaying coronavirus dangers in the early days of the pandemic.
"I wanted to always play it down," the president told Woodward, according to his book. "I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic."
But he also relayed the severity of the virus.
"This is deadly stuff," the president told Woodward in a Feb. 7 conversation, according to the book, which is called Rage. "You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu."
Trump defended his approach after the book’s release, saying he wanted to avoid panicking the public. He added, if it was so bad, why did Woodward wait months before reporting the information?
"I don’t want to jump up and down and start screaming ‘Death! Death!’ because that’s not what it’s about," Trump said when pressed this week about why he played down COVID-19 in February and early March.
↑ Back to top
PENCE: On Day 1, Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes.
Despite repeated promises from the president and his advisers, the Republican tax cut passed in 2017 hasn’t come close to paying for itself. Corporate tax revenues fell 31% the first year after the cut was passed. Overall tax revenues as a share of the economy have declined in each of the two years since the cut took effect. The tax cut also failed to deliver a sustained increase in economic growth.
Joe Biden has proposed raising the corporate tax rate from its current rate of 21% to 28% — still below the level in 2016. Biden also wants to impose higher income and payroll taxes on those making more than $400,000, as well as tax millionaires’ dividends and capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income. Analysts have said there may be a small indirect effect on most Americans by virtue of the higher corporate tax rate.
According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, more than 80% of Biden’s proposed tax increase would fall on the richest 5% of taxpayers. Biden’s plan would raise an estimated $4 trillion over the next decade.
Forecasters at Goldman Sachs said this week that any drag on the economy from higher taxes and stiffer regulation under a Democratic administration would be more than offset by the positive effects of increased government spending on things like infrastructure, as well as reduced trade frictions. Goldman’s chief economist, Jan Hatzius, wrote that he expects faster economic growth if Democrats take control of both the White House and the Senate.↑ Back to top
Vice President Pence says that the Biden campaign’s coronavirus plan resembles the Trump administration’s, so it “looks a little bit like plagiarism.”
“It looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” Pence said.
It was an indirect reference to Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign, which was derailed after revelations that in speeches he plagiarized rhetoric used by the British politician Neil Kinnock. Biden ultimately withdrew from the race.
Biden is far from the only politician or public figure to have been found to have lifted their words from other sources.↑ Back to top
Debate moderator Susan Page made it clear early in the debate that she expects civility from the vice presidential candidates, Republican incumbent Mike Pence and Democratic nominee Kamala Harris — a marked departure from last week’s presidential debate.
“We want a debate that is lively, but Americans also deserve a discussion that is civil. These are tumultuous times, but we can and will have a respectful exchange about the big issues facing our nation,” Page said at the top of the debate, before issuing her first queries to either candidate.
Page’s moderation of the first and only vice presidential debate of the campaign season follows a widely criticized presidential debate last week moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. That event, a chaotic display of disrespect and disruption, largely on the part of President Trump toward his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, led to questions about what exactly a moderator’s role should be in emceeing and refereeing the showdowns.
Early in the debate, Pence and Harris did briefly cut into one another’s remarks, and Pence spoke over Page on some occasions, but the beginning moments of the televised event were largely civil.↑ Back to top
The vice presidential debate began with the top issue facing America: the coronavirus pandemic.
Vice President Pence, as head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, was quickly put on the defensive, but he countered by saying that the plan put forth by the Biden-Harris campaign read a lot like the proposals the Trump administration has put into action.
“It looks a little bit like plagiarism, which Joe Biden knows something about,” said Pence, taking a dig at the 1987 controversy that forced Biden to drop out of his first race for president a generation ago.
The coronavirus has now been blamed for more than 211,000 deaths in America.
Despite the topic, the only vice presidential debate of 2020 got off to a decidedly more subdued start than the presidential debate a week earlier.
Moderator Susan Page of USA Today said the commission on debates had set out the rules but added, “I’m here to enforce them.” And as if to will it into being, she said, “We can and will have a respectful exchange.”
“You have two minutes to respond without interruption,” Page said as she teed up Sen. Kamala Harris to talk about how a Biden administration would handle the coronavirus differently from the Trump administration.
This is starkly different from the festival of interruptions that was the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. According to the tracking site Factba.se, in that debate, the speaker switched 1,210 times, or once every 4.67 seconds, with Trump responsible for the bulk of the interruptions.
Pence, who long ago described himself as Rush Limbaugh on decaf, appears at least initially to have put Trump’s performance on decaf.
Though there were hints that at least a few interruptions could be coming.↑ Back to top
Susan Page, the moderator for Wednesday night’s debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, has a long history as a journalist covering Washington politics.
Page, who currently serves as the Washington bureau chief for USA Today, has worked at the publication covering White House politics since 1995. In her time in Washington, she has covered a half-dozen White House administrations and written a book on the matriarch of the Bush political dynasty, former first lady Barbara Bush.
In an interview with USA Today, she said that last week’s chaotic first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden reminded her of the importance of adequately preparing ahead of time.
“I’ve tried to really think through what would be an approach that would work to keep the debate on track,” she told the paper.↑ Back to top
The debate stage is set for Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
Unlike the presidential debate last week, Pence and Harris will be seated behind two desks that are reportedly about 12 feet apart from each other and separated by plexiglass. The moderator, Susan Page, who serves as the Washington bureau chief of USA Today, will be seated at a third desk, protected by plexiglass and equally distanced.
The debate is taking place at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall. There will be an audience of 80, including 20 guests and 60 university students. Each person entering the theater is being tested for the coronavirus.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and his wife, Jeanette, are among the guests at tonight’s debate, as well as Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., who is the brother of the vice president.
The debate tickets being given to all audience members feature a disclaimer on the back that reads: “The ticket holder relieves the CPD [Commission on Presidential Debates] and the event site host of any and all liability of any kind or character, including the event of fire, natural disaster, acts of terrorism, or any other act, error, event, incident, accident, injury or sickness (including COVID-19.)”
In the minutes before the start of the debate, CPD official Frank Fahrenkopf made a direct plea for audience members to adhere to the protocols in place, including wearing a mask and refraining from audience reactions or use of phones.
"We beg you please do not take off your mask,” he said.↑ Back to top
In the hours before tonight’s debate, Black and Asian American Democratic supporters are celebrating the fact that Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is the first Black and first Asian American woman to be nominated for vice president on a major party ticket.
Many people are sharing pictures and writing appreciation posts about their Asian American and Pacific Islander mothers and grandmothers, pairing them with the hashtag #AAPISheRose. The posts spotlight the achievements of AAPI women and also cheer on Harris as she heads into the debate.
Posts encouraging voting within the Divine Nine community — alumni of the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities — have also been trending on social media over the past day.
Many posts, paired with the hashtags #DivineNine and #StrollToThePolls, feature photos of Black women wearing the colors of the Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho sororities. Many call for further mobilization and support for Democrats this November.
Harris has been vocal about her positive experience in the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority while attending Howard University.
“Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha, our Divine Nine and my HBCU brothers and sisters,” Harris said in her acceptance speech during the Democratic National Convention.↑ Back to top
In a bid to protect the candidates from the coronavirus, the stage for tonight’s vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City will feature plexiglass barriers between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Concerns about spread of the virus are heightened in light of the outbreak in the White House.
But as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged this week, the virus can spread through the air. Given this, scientists say plexiglass barriers alone may not be enough protection if one of the candidates is infected and exhaling the virus.
Though it’s unclear what other precautions the debate commission may be implementing, some researchers are suggesting a simple solution: Put a localized air-cleaning device right next to the candidates.
“The problem is that a plexiglass barrier does not block aerosols — it only blocks spray,” says Donald Milton, an infectious disease aerobiologist at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
While plexiglass can block respiratory droplets coming from the candidates’ mouths, that kind of spray is more of a concern when people are within about 6 feet of each other, he says.
Read more from NPR science editor and correspondent Maria Godoy here.↑ Back to top
In the White House, there’s one person famous for seeking the spotlight, and suffice it to say, it isn’t Vice President Pence.
As NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe reports, Pence is famous for happily ceding the limelight to his boss.
But that will shift in a big way tonight, when all eyes will turn to the soft-spoken Pence as he squares off against Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
He has a big job: to defend his administration’s policies in a year that has brought health and economic devastation because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite having been hospitalized with COVID-19 himself, President Trump continues to downplay the severity of the virus, which has now claimed the lives of over 210,000 Americans and sickened millions more.
Pence, who led the White House coronavirus task force, will have to account for how the Trump administration handled the pandemic and how it failed to prevent the virus from spreading widely within one of the most protected complexes in the world.
Pence and his team so far have tested negative for the coronavirus, though his press secretary, Katie Miller, left Utah on Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution” after her husband, Trump adviser Stephen Miller, tested positive.
Vice presidents always need to walk a fine line when their bosses get sick, says Joel Goldstein, an expert on vice presidents who’s with Saint Louis University.
“[They] have to be very careful not to sort of appear to overstep, not to appear to be inviting power or courting influence,” Goldstein says.
But Goldstein says Pence has taken remaining in the shadow of the president to another level.
“He’s gone to greater extent than any other vice president that I can ever recall in terms of being effusive in his praise of the president, being adulatory — not simply deferential, but perhaps obsequious,” Goldstein says.↑ Back to top
Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris of California face off this evening in the first and only vice presidential debate, which has taken on a higher degree of importance this year because of the age of both presidential candidates, who are in their 70s, and President Trump’s recent hospitalization with COVID-19.
NPR’s Domenico Montanaro writes that there are five main questions ahead of the debate:
1. Can Pence right the ship?
Pence’s main job will be to do cleanup from Trump’s first debate performance, where the president loudly and incessantly interrupted his opponent and the moderator and received bad marks from viewers because of it. If anyone can take the temperature down, it’s the understated Pence, who was formerly a conservative radio host before he ran for Congress.
2. How does Pence counter a Harris punch?
Harris will be looking for ways to make Pence defend his role as the head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, as well as defend unpopular Trump policies and statements. How and whether Pence can push back against those critiques may very well determine who wins the debate.
3. Does Harris live up to the hype?
Expectations are high for Harris, who has been lauded for her grilling of witnesses in the Senate and for her work as a prosecutor. However, she has much less experience on debate stages than the vice president.
4. Can Harris stick to the Biden line?
Pence has already indicated that he plans to go after Harris by attempting to tie her to the “radical left,” a strategy Trump also employed during the first debate. This is the Trump campaign’s Trojan horse theory — despite Biden underscoring that he’s in charge (“I am the Democratic Party”) and saying he’s not on board with “Medicare for All,” the Green New Deal or withdrawing funding from the police.
The challenge for Harris will be to represent the Biden campaign line clearly and forcefully.
5. How does Trump’s health come up?
The president’s health is certain to be front and center this debate. It’s likely Harris will point to the chaos in the White House, as an increasing number of staff members also test positive for the coronavirus and the president’s medical team and staff present conflicting messages about his health status.
Harris is expected to push Pence on how Americans are meant to feel safe from the virus when the president and the people closest to him have become infected.
At the same time, it’s a delicate balance in criticizing the president without seeming too callous as he recovers from COVID-19. The Biden campaign has been trying to walk that line already, wishing the president and first lady well but criticizing the administration’s approach to COVID-19.
Pence will likely emphasize what the president has already tweeted — that he’s feeling better than he has in years and that he has the best medical staff while he recovers. Pence will also likely have to explain the president’s decision to halt negotiations on a new coronavirus relief package until after the election.↑ Back to top
On the eve of the sole vice presidential debate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said, “We shouldn’t have a debate” next week if President Trump is still infected with the coronavirus.
“I’m not sure what President Trump is all about now. I don’t know what his status is,” Biden said. “I’m looking forward to being able to debate him, but I just hope all the protocols are followed.”
Biden said he would be “guided by the guidelines set by the Cleveland Clinic,” the medical adviser for the debates.
His comments came hours after Trump tweeted that he was looking forward to the next debate, which is scheduled to take place in Miami on Oct. 15 — 10 days after the president was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and returned to the White House to continue treatment for COVID-19.
Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh suggested the format of the second presidential debate could be altered to accommodate safety concerns, saying, “Everyone agrees that an outdoor event would be the safest possible environment.”
Trump’s medical team reported Tuesday that the president had a “restful first night at home, and today he reports no symptoms” and has stable vital signs. His physician, Sean Conley, told reporters on Monday, the day of Trump’s discharge from Walter Reed, that while he is cautiously optimistic about the president’s prognosis, medical staff will remain on guard for another week.↑ Back to top