- Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris faced off Wednesday in their first and only debate of the 2020 campaign season.
- The debate focused heavily on the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 7 million Americans and killed over 210,000.
- This month the virus made its way to the highest levels of the US government, infecting more than two dozen people in President Donald Trump’s orbit, including him and first lady Melania Trump.
- Other debate topics included the economy, climate change, healthcare, racial justice, and Trump’s and Joe Biden’s records.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Wednesday faced off in the first and only vice-presidential debate of the 2020 election.
The debate came as the Trump administration is mired in the most serious public-health crisis of President Donald Trump’s presidency. More than two-dozen people in and around Trump’s orbit have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
That includes the president and first lady Melania Trump, multiple current and former Republican lawmakers, the White House press secretary, Trump counselor Hope Hicks, head of the White House security office Crede Bailey, and others.
The second-highest-ranking official in the Marine Corps and a senior Coast Guard admiral have also tested positive, and top military officials including the joint chiefs of staff have had to go into quarantine as a result.
Pence had tested negative as of Wednesday, but the Biden campaign insisted that debate staff erect a plexiglass wall between Harris and the vice president and keep them more than 6 feet apart as a precautionary measure.
Harris also tested negative on Wednesday.
The debate focused heavily on the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. USA Today’s Susan Page, who moderated the debate, also asked about key policies the two campaigns have put forward on issues like healthcare, climate change, the economy, the Supreme Court, and Trump’s and Biden’s respective governing records.
Follow Business Insider’s fact-check below:
What they said: Pence said at the start of the debate that “from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of Americans first” and that “he suspended all travel from China, the second-largest economy in the world. Joe Biden opposed that position — he said it was xenophobic and hysterical.”
Fact-check: Trump did not ban all travel from China. He restricted certain types of travel, and far from denigrating the president’s decision as xenophobic, Biden’s campaign expressed support for the move in April.
What they said: Pence accused the Biden campaign of drawing from the Trump administration’s COVID-19 policies, saying: “When you read the Biden plan, it looks an awful lot what President Trump, the task force, and I have been doing. It looks a little bit like plagiarism, something Joe Biden knows a little bit about.”
Fact-check: Pence was likely referring to the plagiarism controversy that doomed Biden’s 1988 presidential run. Specifically, as Business Insider previously reported, Biden lifted portions of a speech by Neil Kinnock, a UK Labour MP and Margaret Thatcher challenger. And, according to a 1987 article in The New York Times, Biden acknowledged plagiarizing a law-review journal for a paper during law school, and asked school administrators not to be expelled. Biden later said he had made a mistake in the citation process.
What they said: Harris accused Trump of calling the COVID-19 pandemic a “hoax.”
Fact-check: This was a misleading statement. Trump was not referring to the pandemic specifically as a hoax but rather to Democratic lawmakers’ criticism of his administration’s handling of the virus.
“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” the president said in February at a campaign rally. “You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They go, ‘Oh, not good, not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they’ve been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning, they lost, it’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.”
What they said: “We’re going to have a vaccine in less than a year, in unheard of time, we’re producing tens of millions of doses,” Pence said.
Fact-check: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious-disease expert, told Reuters in an interview that pharmaceutical companies would likely have tens of millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine available by early 2021 and as many as a billion doses available by the end of the same year.
Fauci also told a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in September that by November there would “probably be maybe 50 million doses available. By December maybe another 100-plus million. And then you get into January and February. By the time you get to April, it’ll be a total of about 700 million.”
He added: “They will be rolling in as the months go by and by the time you get to maybe the third or fourth month of 2021, then you’ll have doses for everyone.”
What they said: Pence accused Biden of wanting to raise taxes across the board, seeking to “bury our economy in a $2 trillion Green New Deal,” and attempting to “abolish fossil fuels and ban fracking.”
Fact-check: Biden’s tax plan would raise taxes only on Americans making more than $400,000 a year. He also explicitly said that he would not ban fracking and that he did not support the Green New Deal, though his climate plan did feature some similarities to the plan. In fact, Biden’s lack of support for the Green New Deal was one of the main reasons progressive lawmakers like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were hesitant to throw their support behind the former vice president.
What they said: Pence, responding to a question about the Trump and Biden campaigns’ approach to climate change, said that “our air and land is cleaner than ever recorded.”
Fact check: This is not true. As Business Insider reported, “the Environmental Performance Index, a metric from environmental scientists at Yale and Columbia that ranks 180 countries around the world, puts the US in 10th place when it comes to overall air quality (Australia is first).”
Moreover, contrary to Trump and Pence’s claims, “air in the country is actually getting dirtier and more dangerous to breathe under his administration,” the report said.
What they said: “When we look at where this administration has been, there are estimates that by the end of the term of this administration, they will have lost more jobs than almost any other presidential administration,” Harris said.
Fact check: President George W. Bush “inherited 4.2% unemployment in January 2001,” a rate that had “grown to 7.8% when he left office eight years later,” Vox reported. When Trump took office, he inherited a 4.2% unemployment rate from Obama. The current unemployment rate is 8.4%.
CNN also reported that job losses during Trump’s first term were the worst of any president in recorded American history, though there were fewer jobs when President Herbert Hoover left the White House than when he took office.
What they said: Pence said that Iran’s top military general, Qassem Soleimani, was traveling to Baghdad to harm Americans when Trump ordered the drone strike that killed him.
Fact check: The Trump administration has repeatedly said this but never provided evidence of an imminent threat to Americans’ lives at the time of Soleimani’s assassination.
What they said: Pence claimed Biden opposed the raid against Osama bin Laden.
Fact check: Biden urged caution and said then President Barack Obama should gather more intelligence before the raid, but he did not oppose the measure.
What they said: Pence said that Biden and Harris “support taxpayer funded abortion all the way up to the moment of birth, late-term abortion.”
Fact check: This is one of the most common false claims Republicans amplify about Democrats’ position on access to abortion. Biden and Harris do not support requiring taxpayer-funded abortions for all. Biden’s campaign platform includes codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law with legislation, funding Planned Parenthood, eliminating the ‘global gag rule,’ which limits funding for NGOs working abroad that provide information on abortion, and reinstating the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for contraceptive coverage.
What they said: Harris accused Trump of refusing to condemn white supremacists at the first presidential debate, of saying that there were “very fine people” on both sides of a racist, neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 that resulted in the death of a counter-protester.
Fact check: Trump was asked to explicitly denounce white supremacists and the Proud Boys, a racist, far-right group, at last week’s debate and refused to do so, saying instead that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by.”
The group celebrated Trump’s comments afterward as an endorsement of their ideology and used it to recruit new members. Trump also refused to condemn neo-Nazis after the 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville and said ther e was violence “on many sides.”
Shortly after, several prominent white nationalists and neo-Nazis praised Trump’s comments.
What they said: Pence said that Biden “spent the last three and a half years trying to overturn the results of the last election.” He added: “When Joe Biden was vice president of the United States, the FBI actually spied on President Trump and my campaign. I mean, there were documents released this week that the CIA actually made a referral to the FBI documenting that those allegations were actually coming from the campaign.”
Pence also said that the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election interference and whether the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow found that there was “no obstruction, no collusion, case closed.”
Fact check: The Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz determined after an internal investigation that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” to launch the investigation and that it was not motivated by political bias. He faulted the bureau for violating protocol when applying for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to monitor the communications of Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. But he did not uncover evidence that the FBI improperly or illegally “spied” on the Trump campaign, as Pence and Trump have repeatedly alleged.
The “documents” Pence was referring to are notes that the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, declassified and released to the public this week. The notes were written by then-CIA director John Brennan and described narratives that Russian intelligence operatives were pushing about the 2016 election. Specifically, Brennan wrote that Russian intelligence was promoting an allegation that a foreign policy advisor to Clinton cooked up a plan “to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”
The special counsel Robert Mueller also did not conclude that there was “no obstruction” and “no collusion” related to the Russia investigation. Instead, his team said it did not find sufficient evidence to charge anyone on the Trump campaign for conspiring with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 race. Mueller also declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether Trump obstructed justice, citing a longstanding DOJ policy that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Moreover, Mueller’s team specified that the remedy to hold a president accountable for wrongdoing lies with Congress, and that if prosecutors had confidence Trump did not commit a crime, they would have said so.
Joe Perticone and Grace Panetta contributed reporting.