Vice President Mike Pence defended the administration and accused Harris and Joe Biden of seeking to pack the Supreme Court if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed.
The debate had a calmer tone than last week’s chaotic debate between Biden and President Trump, though Pence repeatedly ignored the moderator’s efforts to cut him off.
The debate was the first since Trump tested positive for COVID-19, and much of the early going focused on the virus. Harris accused the administration of downplaying the seriousness of the virus.
“They knew and they covered it up,” she said. “They minimized the seriousness of it. They still don’t have a plan.”
Pence accused Harris of undermining public confidence in a vaccine, which he said would be ready by the end of the year.
“President Trump and I trust the American people to make the best choices in the interests of their health,” Pence said. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris consistently talk about mandates… We’re about freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people.”
Harris shot back: “You respect the American people when you tell them the truth.”
Pence put Harris on the defensive on the Supreme Court, repeatedly challenging her over whether Democrats will expand the Supreme Court. Harris ducked the question — as Biden had done earlier — instead noting that Trump has not appointed any Black judges to the appeals courts.
“They are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election,” Pence said.
The moderator, USA Today’s Susan Page, tried to keep Pence from exceeding his time by repeatedly saying “Thank you, Mr. Vice President.” That proved ineffectual, and after several instances Page admonished him.
“Vice President Pence, I did not create the rules for tonight,” she said. “I’m here to enforce them, giving roughly equal time to both of you, which is what I’m trying to do.”
Harris and Pence each got about equal time, CNN reported, with Harris speaking for 36 minutes and 24 seconds and Pence speaking for 36 minutes and 27 seconds.
Both candidates ignored some of the questions. Page asked each candidate to talk about possible transfer of power if the president became incapacitated. Neither candidate answered that, instead reverting to talking points. Pence also declined to answer what he would do if Trump lost but refused to transfer power, instead accusing Democrats of opening the vote to fraud by pushing for mail-in voting.
Pence interrupted Harris a few times, prompting her to say at one point, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”
Harris trained her real fire not on Pence, but on Trump, citing reports that he had called American service members “suckers” and “losers,” and attacking his deferential relationship toward Vladimir Putin.
Pence meanwhile chose to focus on Harris, calling her too liberal, and accused her of wanting to ban fracking and supporting the Green New Deal.
The candidates were separated by Plexiglass, and seated 12 feet apart. On Twitter, much of the chatter was about a fly that landed on Pence’s head and Pence’s left eye, which appeared to be somewhat bloodshot.