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Judges, fracking and a fly: Six takeaways from the US vice presidential debate

Judges, fracking and a fly: Six takeaways from the US vice presidential debate

Vice President Mike Pence listens as Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen Kamala Harris, D-Calif, makes a point during the vice presidential debate on Oct 7, 2020, at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. (Photo: AP/Patrick Semansky)

SALT LAKE CITY: The matchup between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger Senator Kamala Harris on Wednesday night (Oct 7) opened without the fireworks that marred last week's chaotic debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

But Trump's COVID-19 infection, and his and Biden's advanced age, made it perhaps the most consequential US vice presidential debate in living memory.

WATCH: Mike Pence, Kamala Harris clash over Trump's coronavirus record at US vice presidential debate

Here are a few standout moments from the debate:


Frustrated that Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate may soon cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, some on the left have called on Biden to expand the nine-member court to 11 or 13 seats. Harris declined to say whether she supported that idea.

Her silence was telling, Pence said. "The straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election," he said.


The relatively sedate atmosphere allowed stark policy differences to come to the fore.

On global warming, for example, Pence declined to say that it was caused by human activity - the overwhelming scientific consensus - and said Biden's proposed fixes would be too expensive.

He also inaccurately said that Biden would ban hydraulic fracturing. 

Biden, in fact, has said repeatedly he would not pursue a fracking ban, although he would oppose new permits for drilling on federal land. It is a key issue in electoral backgrounds like western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, where the technique has led to a boom in energy production over the past decade.


Pence's left eye was noticeably bloodshot for much of the debate. 

More than an hour in, a black housefly sat for several minutes on Pence's white hair, hanging on as he shook his head and parried with Harris over race and criminal justice. It triggered an avalanche of social media posts and the hashtag #fly2024 surfaced on Twitter.

Vice President Mike Pence listens to Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., during the vice presidential debate Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

"Three debaters are now on the stage: Harris, Pence, and a very political fly that has nested in the Veep’s head," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, wrote on Twitter.


Following last week's chaotic, insult-laden debate between Biden and Trump, moderator Susan Page warned both candidates that she would strictly enforce rules designed to ensure decorum. "We want a debate that is lively. But Americans also deserve a discussion that is civil," she said.

Pence opened by saying it was a "privilege" to be on stage with Harris - even after she said the administration's coronavirus response was "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country".

Things eventually heated up, but only to a simmer, not a boil. Pence repeatedly interrupted Harris and the moderator, leaving Harris to plead: "Mr Vice President, I'm speaking."


Biden, 77, would be the oldest president in U.S. history if he were to win the election. Trump, 74, spent the weekend at a military hospital outside Washington after contracting COVID-19.

Both candidates ducked questions about the health of their elderly running mates.

When asked whether there was a firm plan of succession in place, Pence, 61, used his time to talk about vaccines, while Harris, 55, talked up her biography as a child of immigrants who went on to serve as California attorney general.

Likewise, neither answered directly when asked why their older running mates had not released detailed health information. Pence thanked those who had wished for Trump's recovery, while Harris criticized Trump for not releasing his tax returns.


Both candidates also danced around what would happen in the event of a disputed election - a scenario prompted by Trump's repeated statements that he might not accept the outcome if he does not win.

Harris urged supporters to vote, rather than playing up the possibility of legal wrangling or violence at polling places. "If we use our voice and use our vote we will win," she said.

Pence did not promise that Trump would leave office if he lost. Instead, he accused Democrats of denying the legitimacy of Trump's 2016 victory through investigations and impeachment.

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