A debate between US Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris is being touted by commentators as one of the key moments of the election campaign. The pair are due to face-off in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a televised debate on Wednesday night in what is usually a low-key affair that has little impact on the race for the White House.
However, President Trump’s hospital admission last week with COVID-19 and his subsequent health concerns have made the event more significant for voters and observers. Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid, said: “Normally, the vice presidential debate is inconsequential. That is not the case in 2020.
“The public has so many questions about how we got here and it’s an opportunity for Pence to answer some of those.” Democratic Senator Harris is certain to push Republican Mr Pence on Mr Trump’s health and poor record of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the president’s relationship with Russia.
With such different backgrounds and policies how do the two compare?
Age and background
Kamala Harris At 55, Ms Harris is much younger than Mr Pence and Mr Trump. She was born in Oakland, California in 1964 to an immigrant family. Her father is from Jamaica and her mother is from Chennai, India. She attended Howard University before entering law school at the University of California. She lives in Oakland and is married to lawyer Douglas Emhoff. She has two stepchildren Cole and Ella. She is Baptist but was brought up with a mixture of Christianity and Hinduism. Her husband is Jewish.
Mr Pence is 61 and was born in Columbus, Indiana, in 1959. His father was a Korean War veteran who ran petrol stations. He went to Hanover College in Indiana and then studied at Indiana University school of law. He’s been married to Karen Pence since 1985. They have three children together. He is a socially conservative, ‘born-again’ Christian evangelical. His religion has influenced his policies on abortion, birth control and LGBTQ rights.
Kamala Harris She is an experienced lawyer and prosecutor. She began her law career in the Alameda County district attorney’s office before working as a district attorney in San Francisco. She was the first black person and first woman to get the role. In 2011, she became California’s attorney general before being elected to the US Senate in 2017.
Mike Pence He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013 and Indiana’s governor from 2013 to 2017. Before entering politics, he hosted a talk radio show.
Kamala Harris: She’s been very vocal in her criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic that has seen over 210,000 Americans die. In a speech, she said: “Donald Trump froze. He was scared. And he was petty and vindictive.” She went on to say Mr Trump was “fixated on the stock market” and “caved” to the Chinese government. “And here’s what you have to understand about the nature of a pandemic: It’s relentless. You can’t stop it with a tweet. You can’t create a distraction and hope it’ll go away. It doesn’t go away,” she said. In May, she put forward the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act to look into racial disparities, since BAME people are thought to be more adversely impacted.
Mike Pence: At the start of the pandemic in February, Mr Trump appointed Mr Pence to head up the nation’s coronavirus task force. Like Mr Trump, he has downplayed the pandemic and taken aim at the media’s reporting of deaths. He has said that panic over the virus is “overblown” and hailed his administration’s “success” in dealing with it. Mr Pence has also downplayed a second wave and reassured Americans: “We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”
Kamala Harris: Ms Harris suffered during the presidential nomination race thanks to her position on healthcare. She has gone back-and-forth on the subject, at times supporting free and subsidised care, and at others supporting continued privatisation. At first, she supported Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill – a government healthcare scheme that would have eliminated the need for private insurance. In January 2018, she said: “We need medicare for all. That’s just the bottom line.” But in August 2019, she said she was “not comfortable” with the plan. She further backtracked, telling MSNBC she was not in favour of abolishing private health insurance for all. Then she laid out her own healthcare plan, a form of Medicare for All which is a hybrid of both. A government-run system which still allows private insurers to operate inside of it.
Mike Pence :His religious views have influenced his work on healthcare. When he was a congressmen, his opposition to abortion led him to head up efforts to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organisation that provides reproductive healthcare. As governor of Indiana he refused to expand Medicaid under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, eventually relenting when he was allowed to introduce his own plan that saw low income adults above the poverty line forced to pay premiums. He has been criticised for the state’s handling of a HIV outbreak in 2015. He initially refused to introduce needle exchanges as it went against his religious beliefs. He relented when the number of cases soared over 200.
Kamala Harris: She bitterly opposes Mr Trump’s plan for a wall with Mexico. She said: “Because I was a prosecutor for many years, including the attorney general of California, I specialise on trans-national criminal organisations. That wall ain’t gonna stop them.” She introduced the 2018 Access to Counsel Act. It guarantees detained migrants access to an attorney. In 2019, she unveiled a plan to remove the threat of deportation for undocumented immigrants. And she supported the Reunite Act to bring together families separated at the border.
Mike Pence: He supports Mr Trump’s plans for a Mexico border wall and for tougher controls on immigration. He’s called immigration a “security crisis” and has criticised Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s campaign, tweeting: “Joe Biden is for open borders, sanctuary cities, free lawyers and free healthcare for illegal immigrants.” He backed Mr Trump’s travel ban and said the president’s executive order to stop those coming from Muslim countries was “constitutional”.
On climate change
Kamala Harris Ms Harris: has long supported action on climate change, calling it an “existential threat that demands bold action”. She supports the 2019 Green New Deal which would see the US go to 100% clean and renewable energy in 10 years and the Paris Agreement. In September, she released her own climate plan which include $12trn (£9.2trn) in investment to create a clean economy and make the US carbon-neutral by 2045. She also supports a carbon tax.
Mike Pence: Like many conservatives, he has repeatedly denied climate science and called global warming a “myth”. He has also refused to call it a threat to US security and has criticised Mr Obama’s Clean Power Plan (to reduce coal plant pollution) which the Trump administration rolled back.
Kamala Harris: When running for the Democrat presidential nomination, Ms Harris made bold statements about banning guns in the country. She said if she was elected president she would give Congress 100 days “to get their act together and have the courage to pass reasonable gun safety laws, and if they fail to do it, then I will take executive action”. If elected she promised to sign an executive order mandating background checks for customers of any firearms dealer who sells more than five guns a year. She also vowed to increase checks on manufacturers and close the loophole that sees domestic abusers allowed to buy guns if their victim is an unmarried partner.
Mike Pence: Like Mr Trump, he is pro-guns. In 2019, he told gun activists at an event hosted by National Rifle Association: “I’ll make you a promise: under this president, and this vice president, no one is taking your guns. “The president and I stand with the NRA because, like all of you, we stand for freedom.”
On law and order
Kamala Harris: As a district attorney and attorney general, Ms Harris has lots of experience to draw from when talking about her record on law and order. At times she has been criticised for seeing to be too tough, thanks to her stance on non-violent crimes. In the past, she has fought prison releases due to overcrowding, defended convictions of up to a dozen people after they were found not guilty and pushed for state legislation that would have seen the prosecution of parents of children who play truant from schools. However, she has made lots of moves to bring about a reform of the justice system. She has a criminal justice reform plan that seeks to minimise incarceration, end the death penalty and solitary confinement, ban private prisons, get rid of cash bail, create national standards for police conduct and end mandatory minimum sentencing. And she has a strong record when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it “essential” and praising protesters. On the issue of drugs, she co-sponsored an act to end the federal prohibition of cannabis and has moved to get non-violent cannabis offences removed from offenders’ records.
Mike Pence: He has long reiterated Mr Trump’s calls for law and order across America. He pledged to work with the president to restore order after riots started following the shooting of black man Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said: “Too many heroes have died defending our freedoms to see Americans strike each other down. “We will have law and order on the streets of America.” Referring to riots and Black Lives Matter marches in some states, he said: “Let me be clear: the violence must stop. Whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha.” He has also lambasted activists who have attempted to take down controversial statues. Mr Pence has called for tougher penalties for those convicted of drug-related crimes, doesn’t support the legalisation of cannabis and backs the death penalty.
On Foreign Policy
Kamala Harris: She has often used her background and upbringing to defend her stance on foreign policy. Senator Harris is running on a ticket based around a centre-left view of foreign policy. She promised to support Ukraine in their fight against Russia. And she has pledged support for the Uighurs and those in Hong Kong suffering oppression from Beijing. She is thought to have a lot in common with former president Harry Truman in her desire to promote America and American interests abroad. She is expected to challenge Mr Pence on Mr Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin and the administration’s handling of Russia. She has expertise in this area as a member of the Senate select committee on intelligence which investigated Russian interference with the 2016 election.
Mike Pence: As VP, Mr Pence has travelled all over the world including Iraq, China and Israel promoting American interests abroad. He was instrumental in persuading President Trump to keep American forces in Afghanistan “until we eliminate the terrorist threat to our homeland, our people once and for all”. He has openly condemned Russia and Iran for their role in the Syrian conflict and has fervently denied any collusion with Russia during the 2016 election. He is in favour of investing in the US military saying: “I just have to tell you that the provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength.”