Harris and Pence Really Differ on the Issues. Here’s a Look Ahead of the Vice Presidential Debate.

Workers install plexiglass barriers on the stage ahead of the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall of the University of Utah October 6, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will face off in the 2020 vice presidential debate on Wednesday evening. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By Elle Meyers

October 7, 2020

The debate begins at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday night, and is the only time Harris and Pence will face off before Election Day.

California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence are scheduled to square off on the debate stage tonight at 9 p.m. EST at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. 

The debate will look a little different from the chaotic first presidential debate held last week. The two candidates’ podiums will be spaced further apart, and a plexiglass divider will be placed between Pence and Harris for additional protection against the coronavirus. 

In recent days, several members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle, and the president himself, have tested positive for the virus. Although Pence has tested negative several times over the past week, there are concerns that he could still carry the virus, since he spent time around others who were positively diagnosed. 

The debate topics have not been released, but the president’s health and the administration’s handling of COVID-19 are likely to be major topics, especially because Pence served as head of the White House coronavirus task force. 

Plexiglass won’t be the only thing dividing the two candidates on the debate stage. Harris and Pence are near opposites on the political spectrum. Below we review where they stand on eight important issues.

You can watch the debate live on YouTube from several news outlets: ABCCBSNBCPBS, and C-SPAN

Harris and Pence on the Economy 

Harris has focused her attention on helping the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic and implementing measures to help underserved communities. She has pushed for additional federal support for individuals, like extending the enhanced federal unemployment assistance, and a moratorium on evictions, foreclosure, and utility shut-offs.

Pence has repeatedly pushed a distorted image of the economy he and Trump inherited from President Barack Obama. Economic growth under Trump was largely stagnant before the pandemic. Since March, and the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic the country has dealt with historic unemployment rates and additional crises in housing and business closures.

Harris and Pence on Health Care

Since joining Biden as his running mate, Harris has focused on getting health care access to underserved communities, especially as the pandemic has “worsened long-standing disparities in our country.” The Biden and Harris ticket wants to build on the Affordable Care Act, creating a “public option” health insurance plan that any American could sign up for and afford.

Pence has towed the Republican party line on health care during his time as vice president. The GOP has worked for the last four years to repeal the Affordable Care Act without any plan to replace it. But before becoming vice president, Pence liked the ACA enough to expand Medicaid as governor of Indiana. 

Harris and Pence on Climate

Environmental issues have long been part of Harris’ political platform. As a district attorney she created an environmental justice unit and fought against large polluters that were disproportionately affecting minority communities. As a senator she opposed Trump rollbacks of environmental protections, like car fuel standards and an offshore drilling ban. She and Biden have a plan to reduce carbon emissions and create new jobs by focusing on clean energy and retrofitting existing buildings to make them more energy efficient.

Pence has long denied that human activity is contributing to climate change and has fought on behalf of major oil and gas companies. He has also said publicly that climate change is a myth and has supported expanding fossil fuel development. 

Harris and Pence on Racial Justice 

Harris wants to overhaul the criminal justice system and has been vocal about reforming the police, especially after the police killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor this year. On the campaign trail she promised to eliminate private prisons and mandatory minimum sentences, which disproportionately affect communities of color. 

In contrast, during the 2016 campaign Pence told a church group that there is “far too much of this talk of institutional bias or racism within law enforcement.”  Pence hasn’t said much recently about the disproportionate police killing of Black people, despite historic protests. He also ridiculed Biden for saying that systemic racism is a problem in the United States, despite significant evidence that bias against minority communities exists within the American criminal justice system. 

Harris and Pence on Immigration

Harris strongly opposed the Trump administration’s child separation policy at the southern border. She backs the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and was one of the highest profile congressional leaders to call for the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen over child separations. Harris also has advocated for a clear path to citizenship for DACA recipients and expand oversight of detention centers. 

Pence has stood firmly alongside Trump on immigration issues. In 2018 he told immigrants, “if you can’t come legally, don’t come at all.” He, along with Trump, cut foreign assistance to many Central American countries, eliminated programs that helped people come to the US legally and ended a communications campaign that relayed information to families looking to come to America. Pence towed the party line on child separations, after visiting a detention facility in 2019 he admitted the situation was “tough stuff.” 

Harris and Pence on Abortion

Harris is a strong supporter of women’s reproductive health and access to safe, legal abortions. She received a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. As a senator she has supported legislation that would solidify a women’s right to choose, including the EACH Woman Act, which would ban states from implementing private abortion coverage bans. 

Pence has been a staunch and vocal opponent of abortion for years. He has made it a centerpiece of his governing philosophy, and as Indiana’s governor he cut funding to medical clinics that provide safe, legal abortions, including Planned Parenthood, which eventually had to close its doors in the state. 

Harris and Pence on LGBTQ Rights

Harris has a record of supporting the LGBTQ community since her time as a district attorney in San Francisco. As district attorney, she established a hate crimes unit to investigate and prosecute violence against LGBTQ individuals.

Pence has not been secretive about his opposition to gay rights. In the 1990s, he claimed that being gay was “a choice” and worked against efforts in Indiana to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. In Congress he argued that marriage equality would lead to societal collapse.

Harris and Pence on HIV/AIDS

Harris has outlined a plan to make Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which helps reduce the risk of contracting HIV by up to 92%, more accessible and affordable. Her plan would make the drug free for those with insurance. 

As Indiana’s governor, Pence was heavily criticized for making the state’s HIV outbreak worse by not quickly setting up needle exchange program in Scott County, the area of the state that was hit hardest with an HIV outbreak. It was also difficult for people in the area to get tested for HIV because the only medical center that did HIV testing was a Planned Parenthood clinic that had closed its doors due to state budget cuts that Pence supported. POLITICO estimates that Pence could have prevented over 100 new HIV infections if he had implemented public health measures that were recommended to him by the state health department.


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