2020 vice presidential debate

By Melissa Macaya, Fernando Alfonso III, Veronica Rocha, Jessica Estepa and Kyle Blaine, CNN

Updated 2:23 p.m. ET, November 23, 2020
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12:09 a.m. ET, October 8, 2020

Here are some key lines from the first and only 2020 vice presidential debate

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence wave before the vice presidential debate on Wednesday, October 7, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence wave before the vice presidential debate on Wednesday, October 7, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Patrick Semansky/AP

The vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris has wrapped. The candidates debated for 90 minutes about several topics, including coronavirus, the economy, foreign policy, race and police reform.

Harris made history tonight, becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to participate in a general election debate.

If you are just reading in, here are some key moments from the showdown: 

On President Trump's taxes:

  • Harris: “Just so everyone is clear, when we say in debt, it means you owe money to somebody. It would be really good to know who the President of the United States, the commander-in-chief, owes money to,” Harris said. “Because the American people have a right to know what is influencing the President's decisions. And is he making those decisions on the best interests of the American people, of you, or self-interest?”
  • Pence: "The American people have a President who a businessman, a job creator. He's paid tens of millions of dollar in taxes, payroll, property taxes. Creating tens of thousands of American jobs. The President said the reports are not accurate. The President's also released stacks of financial disclosures, the American people can review just as the law allows," the vice president said.

On the coronavirus vaccine:

  • Pence: "The fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine, if a vaccine emerges during the Trump administration, I think is unconscionable,” Pence said. “Senator, I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives.”
  • Harris: “If Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I’ll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely,” Harris said. “But if Donald Trump tells us to take it, I’m not taking it.”

On adding seats to the Supreme Court:

  • Pence: "This is a classic case of, if you can't win by the rules, you're going to change the rules," Pence said, turning to Harris and asking directly if she and Biden were "going to pack the Supreme Court to get your way?"
  • Harris: "Joe and I are very clear: The American people are voting right now. And it should be their decision about who will serve on (the court) ... for a lifetime," she said.

On police violence and the death of Breonna Taylor:

  • Harris: "I've talked with Breonna's mother and her family, and her family deserves justice. She was a beautiful young woman," Harris said. "Bad cops are bad for good cops. We need reform of policing in America and our criminal justice system. That's why Joe and I will immediately ban choke holds and carotid holds."
  • Pence: "[T]he family of Breonna Taylor has our sympathies. But I trust our justice system," Pence said. "This presumption that you hear from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris that America is systemically racist, and as Joe Biden said, he believes that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities, it's a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement."

On trade:

  • Harris: “The vice president earlier said it’s what he thinks as an accomplishment that the President’s trade war with China,” Harris said. “You lost that trade war. You lost it. What ended up happening is because of a so-called trade war with China, America lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs.”
  • Pence: “Lost the trade war with China? Joe Biden never fought it," he said.

On climate change:

  • Harris: "Let's talk about who is prepared to lead our country over the course of the next four years on what is an existential threat to us as human beings. Joe is about saying, 'We're going to invest in renewable energy,' it's going to be about the creation of millions of jobs, we will achieve zero emissions by 2050, carbon neutral by 2035. Joe has a plan," Harris said.
  • Pence: "There are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago, but many climate alarmists use hurricanes and fires to try and sell the Green New Deal," Pence said.
12:03 a.m. ET, October 8, 2020

CNN Instant Poll: Harris seen as winner in a debate that matched expectations

From CNN's Jennifer Agiesta

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris waves as she arrives on stage for the vice presidential debate with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris waves as she arrives on stage for the vice presidential debate with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Julio Cortez/AP

More Americans said Sen. Kamala Harris did the best job in the vice presidential debate tonight, according to a CNN Instant Poll of registered voters who watched. About six in 10 (59%) said Harris won, 38% said Vice President Mike Pence had the better night.

Those results roughly match voters’ expectations heading in to the debate. In interviews conducted before tonight’s debate, 61% of these same voters said they expected Harris to win, 36% thought Pence would. 

Harris did improve her favorability rating among those who watched, according to the poll, while for Pence, the debate was a wash. In pre-debate interviews, 56% said they had a positive view of Harris, that rose to 63% after the debate. For Pence, his favorability stood at 41% in both pre- and post-debate interviews. 

Both candidates who took the stage tonight are broadly seen as qualified to be president: 65% said Pence is qualified to serve as president should that become necessary, 63% said the same about Harris. 

The CNN post-debate poll was conducted by SSRS by telephone and includes interviews with 609 registered voters who watched the Oct. 7 vice presidential debate. Results among debate-watchers have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points. Respondents were originally interviewed Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 either by telephone or online, and indicated they planned to watch the debate and would be willing to be re-interviewed when it was over. Respondents initially reached online are members of the SSRS Opinion Panel, a nationally representative probability-based panel.

CNN's David Chalian breaks down the numbers:

11:41 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

Trump and Biden react to tonight's debate

President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden reacted on Twitter to their running mates' vice presidential debate.

Trump and Biden are set to debate again next week in the second presidential debate.

See their tweets:

12:05 a.m. ET, October 8, 2020

Here's what undecided voters thought about the debate tonight

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Following tonight's vice presidential debate, a panel of undecided voters spoke with CNN's Sara Sidner about what they thought of each candidate's performance.

When the group was asked specifically to choose a winner between California Sen. Kamala Harris or Vice President Mike Pence, it was a tie; four thought Harris won, four thought Pence won and the rest thought the debate was a wash.

Watch their full reaction:

11:25 a.m. ET, October 8, 2020

Fact check: Pence falsely claims mail-in voting creates a "massive opportunity for voter fraud"

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy and Marshall Cohen 

Vice President Mike Pence claimed that universal mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud. 

"President Trump and I are fighting every day in courthouses to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating this universal mail-in voting that will create a massive opportunity for voter fraud," Pence said.  

Facts first: This claim about voter fraud, which Trump has also made repeatedly, is false.  

Numerous studies have found that mail-in voting does not lead to "massive" fraud. Furthermore, only nine states and Washington, DC, are using "universal mail-in voting" this year. 

Experts acknowledge there might be some logistical issues in terms of people being able to receive and mail in their ballots. Isolated incidents of missing ballots or discarded envelopes have cropped up in recent weeks. But there's no evidence that mail-in voting leads to fraudulent and rigged elections, which the Trump White House has repeatedly claimed. 

Voting by mail rarely results in fraud. States have put in place multiple policies and safeguards like bar codes and signature verification to combat risks and deter attempts to commit fraud. Comprehensive studies of billions of ballots cast over many years indicate that the rate of voter fraud is less than 0.0001%.

For more CNN fact checks, visit our fact check database hereand learn more about mail-in voting here.

12:06 a.m. ET, October 8, 2020

Fact check: Claims that the White House pandemic team was disbanded

From CNN's Marshall Cohen 

Vice President Mike Pence and Kamala Harris briefly rehashed a dispute that has been a part of the political wrangling over Covid-19 — whether or not the Trump White House disbanded an Obama-era pandemic team.  

Harris said the Obama administration “created within the White House, an office that basically was responsible for monitoring pandemics” and claimed that the Trump administration “got rid of it.” Pence responded, “Not true.” 

Facts First: That the Trump administration got rid of the office is true, but it’s complicated. The White House pandemic team was disbanded under Trump, but some of the public health officials on the team were kept onboard and reassigned to related roles. It’s impossible to know if this move led to the bungled US response to Covid-19, but many leading public health experts have said the US was better off with the pandemic team intact. 

Two things are clear: Number one, the Obama administration created a specific team on the National Security Council to handle pandemic preparation and global health. Number two, that team no longer exists. 

The official who was in charge, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, departed in 2018. Around that time, John Bolton became Trump’s new national security adviser and reshuffled the NSC, which included changes to the pandemic team. CNN previously reported that another official with a similar purview has less authority than Ziemer had before he left. 

Regarding the fate of the White House pandemic team, it depends on who you ask. Trump critics and former Obama administration officials say the team was fired, eliminated or disbanded. Trump and his conservative allies say the group was streamlined, reorganized or reassigned. 

Beth Cameron, who led the pandemic team after it was created by the Obama White House, said Trump “dissolved” the office and that this move significantly hampered the US response to Covid-19. Tim Morrison, who oversaw the new operation in the Trump administration, said the merged group of NSC officials was “stronger because related expertise could be commingled.” 

For more CNN fact checks, visit our fact check database here.


12:01 a.m. ET, October 8, 2020

Fact check: Harris' claim on Biden tax plan

From CNN's Katie Lobosco

Sen. Kamala Harris said that Joe Biden would not raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 a year. 

Facts First: This needs context and depends a lot on how you define taxes

At least two economic models show that Biden’s plan would not raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000 when considering direct income and payroll taxes. That includes analyses from the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Penn Wharton Budget Model

But the story is different when considering indirect taxes and the impact of other Biden proposals. Workers might bear some of the cost of his proposal to raise corporate taxes – resulting in lower after-tax wages. Another proposal from Biden to change 401(k)s could reduce the tax benefits of contributing to those accounts for some taxpayers.

For more CNN fact checks, visit our fact check database here.

11:18 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

What did you think of tonight's debate?

From CNN's Melissa Mahtani

Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris have just wrapped up their only debate of the 2020 election campaign and we want to hear from you.

Tell us what you thought of the debate and what impact it had on you using the form below.

11:21 p.m. ET, October 7, 2020

Both candidates sound notes of unity in closing remarks

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

In the final moments of tonight vice presidential debate, both candidates sought to sound a note of unity, even as they had spent the previous 90 minutes in vigorous disagreement. 

The candidates' final remarks were given in response to a question from the debate's moderator Susan Page, in which she read from an essay by an eighth grader about constant "arguing between Democrats and Republicans."  

"If our leaders can't get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?" asked the eighth grader, according to Page.

Pence, who offered the first closing statement, cited the late Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, known for delivering opposing opinions from the bench while maintaining a close personal relationship. 

"They were on polar opposites, one very liberal, one very conservative," said Pence. "What has been learned since her passing is that the two of them and their families were the very closest of friends."

"Here in America, we can disagree, we can debate vigorously as Sen. Harris and I have on this stage tonight but when the debate is over we come together as Americans," Pence added. 

Harris, for her part, cited the record of her running mate, Joe Biden, who built a reputation for working across the aisle during his decades serving in the US Senate.

Harris began by saying Biden had decided to run against Trump, after witnessing the racism, hatred and division on display in Charlottesville in 2017.

"One of the reasons Joe decided to run for president is after Charlottesville... It so troubled him and upset him like it did all of us, that there was that kind of hate and that division," she said.

"Joe has a long standing reputation of working across the aisle and working in a bipartisan way and that's what he is going to do as President," Harris continued. "Joe Biden has a history of lifting people up and fighting for their dignity."