Five Key Takeaways for Women From the VP Debate

October 8, 2020

Kamala Harris

As soon as the vice presidential candidates took the stage at the University of Utah last night for their first and only debate, it was clear the night would be different from the presidential debate on September 29. Moderator Susan Page of USA Today stressed that audience members would be required to wear masks for the duration of the 90 minute debate, and plexiglass dividers stood between the two candidates, who were seated 12 feet apart in accordance with the Presidential Debate Commission’s new safety guidelines.

The tone of the evening was quite different, too. Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, discussed everything from the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to the economy to the Supreme Court seat left vacant after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Supermajority News rounded up some of the biggest issues that matter to women that were discussed during the vice presidential debate.

The pandemic’s impact on the American family

As Pence defended the administration’s response to the virus throughout the debate, Harris concentrated on discussing the radical ways life has changed for families across the United States.

“How calm were you when you were panicked about where you were going to get your next roll of toilet paper?” Harris said. “How calm were you when your kids were sent home from school and you didn’t know when they could go back? How calm were you when your children couldn’t see your parents because you were afraid they could kill them?”

Harris also singled out the disproportionate impact the virus has had on frontline workers, a sector that overwhelmingly employs women, many of whom had been struggling due to lack of access to healthcare, paid leave, and job security long before the pandemic began. “We’re looking at frontline workers who have been treated like sacrificial workers,” Harris said.

Harris also singled out a passage in journalist Bob Woodward’s recent book, which revealed that President Donald Trump had been warned by an advisor on January 28 that the coronavirus was “the biggest national security threat” facing his presidency. 

“They knew, and they covered it up,” Harris told the audience of the Trump administration. “The president said it was a hoax. They minimized the seriousness of it.” 

Harris also repeatedly noted that the vice president is currently the head of the Trump administration’s coronavirus taskforce. When Pence tried to defend the administration’s response to the virus, Harris repeatedly pushed back by noting that more than 210,000 Americans have died of the virus since the pandemic began. “Whatever the Vice President has claimed the president has done, clearly it hasn’t worked,” she said.

Protecting the Affordable Care Act and protections for pre-existing conditions

A major focus of Harris’s throughout the debate was the Trump administration’s push to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama-era law that permitted millions of Americans to access health insurance, expanded Medicare coverage, and prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

“If you have a pre-existing condition — heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer — they are coming for you,” Harris told viewers while looking directly at the camera. “If you love someone who has a pre-existing condition, they are coming for you. If you are under the age of 26 and on your parents’ coverage, they are coming for you.”

The ACA has notably helped women access healthcare. The law forbade insurance companies from charging women more because of their gender and guaranteed patients access to contraception, prenatal care, and support for breastfeeding. Only 12% of healthcare plans provided maternity care prior to 2010.

The ongoing economic crisis

As part of a question about the economy, Page noted that those hardest hit by the economic downturn were Latino Americans, Black Americans, and women. “On the issue of the economy, I think there couldn’t be a more fundamental difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” said Harris. Harris slammed Trump’s tax plan, which was “benefiting the top one percent and the biggest corporations of America.”

Protecting reproductive rights

It was not until over an hour into the debate that the candidates were faced with a question regarding reproductive rights and the future of Roe v. Wade, the 1972 Supreme Court case that guaranteed the right to an abortion. With the nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by President Trump, Roe v. Wade is expected to be challenged in the coming years in court.

While Pence dodged the question of whether Barrett will rule in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, Harris reiterated her support for the right to an abortion and reproductive care.

“I will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body,” Harris said. “It should be her decision and not that of Donald Trump and the vice president, Michael Pence.”

Justice for Breonna Taylor 

The debate also touched on the ongoing protests across the country against police violence, particularly on the death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, a Louisville, KY woman killed in her apartment after police officers entered her home on a ‘no-knock’ warrant. None of the three officers who fired their weapons were charged in connection with her death. Both Harris and Pence were asked if justice was done in Taylor’s case.

While Pence sent sympathy to Taylor’s family, he said he ultimately trusted the system and the grand jury findings. That was a sharp contrast to Harris’ response. “I don’t believe so,” said Harris about whether Taylor received justice while adding that she has spoken with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, and other family members. “Her life was taken unjustifiably and tragically and violently.”