Harris v Pence: The most important quotes from the vice presidential debate

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris delivered several one-line zingers. (Getty Images)
Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris delivered several one-line zingers. (Getty Images)

The vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris was free from the incessant interruptions that disrupted the first presidential debate last week, allowing both candidates to talk more in-depth about the issues.

From coronavirus, to vaccines, to the president’s personal finances, here are the most important quotes from the first and only 2020 vice presidential debate:


The debate’s moderator, USA Today’s Susan Page, kicked off the debate with a reminder that she would not tolerate rule-breakers.

Page: “Americans … deserve a discussion that is civil.”

Mr Pence did interrupt Ms Harris on a few occasions, but it did not lead to the tornado of cross-talk and shouting that dominated the presidential debate last week.

Harris: “Mr Vice President, I'm speaking,” the senator said whenever Mr Pence interjected during one of her answers.

Trump’s taxes

Ms Harris framed the president’s personal debt, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, as a national security issue, openly questioning whether his motives in foreign policy were rooted in self-interest or to help the country.

Harris: “It would be really good to know who the president of the United States, the commander in chief, owes money to,” she said, referring to the $400m Mr Trump allegedly owes to unspecified creditors.

Mr Pence did not respond about the issue of Mr Trump’s debts, but said the president had made several financial documents public.

Mr Trump has refused to release his tax returns during both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, defying a decades’ long norm for major-party presidential candidates.


Ms Harris was unsparing about the fact that the US has accounted for more than one in five Covid-19 deaths worldwide despite making up less than 5 per cent of the global population.

Harris: “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”

She also criticised Mr Pence for saying Mr Trump was trying to engender a feeling of “calm” by misleading the American people about the severity and deadliness of the virus.

Harris: “How calm were you when you were wondering where you were going to get your next roll of toilet paper. … How calm were you when your kids were sent home from school? How calm were you when your children couldn't see your parents for fear of killing them? … You respect the American people when you tell them the truth.”

Mr Pence sought to reframe the discussion about Covid-19 policy around Americans’ freedom to decide how they wanted to approach the pandemic on an individual level, even though individuals’ choices impact other people’s lives.

Pence: “President Trump and I trust the American people to make the best choices for themselves about their health.”


The vice president sought to ding Ms Harris for being one of just 10 senators to oppose the bipartisan US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA).

Pence: “The senator voted against the USMCA over concerns it didn’t go far enough on environmental protections." Mr Pence said she put her “radical environmental agenda ahead of” American manufacturers and industrial workers.

Covid vaccine

Ms Harris said Mr Trump’s administration couldn’t be trusted as the sole authority on whether a Covid-19 vaccine is safe or not.

Harris: “If the public health professionals, if Dr Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely. But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I'm not taking it.”

Mr Pence threw the accusation of politicising the vaccine right back at Ms Harris.

Pence: “That fact that you continue to undermine public confidence in a vaccine, if a vaccine emerges during the Trump administration, I think is unconscionable. … Senator, I just ask you, stop playing politics with people’s lives.”

Health care

Since the 2018 midterms that delivered House Democrats a long-elusive majority, the party has seen health care as an asset on the campaign trail.

Republicans have not offered a cohesive plan to replace the 2010 health care law they have tried to dismantle over the course of the decade.

Harris: “If you have a pre-existing condition — heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer — they’re coming for you. … If you love someone who has a pre-existing condition, they’re coming for you. If you are under the age of 26 on your parents’ coverage, they’re coming for you.”

Mr Pence fired back.

Pence: “Obamacare was a disaster, and the American people remember it well. President Trump and I have a plan to improve health care and to protect pre-existing conditions for every American.”

Climate change

Mr Pence accepted that the climate has changed, but he did not specifically blame humans for that change.

Pence: “Now, with regard to climate change, the climate is changing. But the issue is, what's the cause and what do we do about it? President Trump has made it clear that we're going to continue to listen to the science.”

Mr Trump’s administration has sought to eliminate environmental protections that hamper manufacturing and industrial production — and openly touted those roll backs.

Also, Mr Trump in 2012 posted this on Twitter: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

When he was an Indiana congressman, Mr Pence called global warming a “myth”.

And the president wiped every mention of climate change the White House website within minutes of being sworn into office.

Ms Harris provided a stark contrast on climate change.

Harris: “Joe understands that the West Coast of our country is burning ... Joe sees what is happening in the Gulf States, which are being battered by storms ... Joe believes in science.”

Fossil fuels

Mr Pence hit Mr Biden for his vow during the Democratic primaries to end the use of fossil fuels, saying the Democratic ticket would “abolish fracking” if they win the election.

The former vice president has said he would stop the Interior Department from approving new leases for companies to frack on federal land, but he has never supported a national ban on the practice.

Harris: “Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact.”

Russian bounties

Ms Harris criticised Mr Trump for not holding Russian President Vladimir Putin to account for allegedly offering bounties to Taliban-linked soldiers in Afghanistan for killing US troops.

Harris: “Donald Trump had talked at least six times to Vladimir Putin and never brought up the subject. Joe Biden would never do that. Joe Biden would hold Russia to account for any threat to our nation's security or to our troops.”


Ms Harris and Mr Pence drew battle lines on abortion.

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

Pence: “I couldn’t be more proud to serve as vice president to a president who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life. … I’m pro-life. I don’t apologise for it.”

Amy Coney Barrett

Ms Harris argued the winner of the election should choose the Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Harris: “The American people are voting right now. And so it should be their decision."

Mr Pence challenged Ms Harris to answer whether Mr Biden would seek to add more seats to the Supreme Court if he becomes president to dilute a conservative majority. Ms Harris did not directly answer.

Pence – “Once again you gave a non-answer, Joe Biden gave a non-answer. … The American people deserve a straight answer. And if you haven't figured it out yet, the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election.”

Ms Harris did, however, hit back at the Trump administration for a lack of diversity in its appeals court nominations.

Harris: “Do you know that of the 50 people who President Trump appointed to the Court of Appeals for lifetime appointments, not one is Black? … You want to talk about packing a court, let's have that discussion.”

Transfer of power

Mr Pence did not answer Ms Page’s question about how he would help facilitate a transfer of power from Mr Trump to Mr Biden if the president loses the election. Instead, he merely projected optimism about the Republican ticket’s chances.

Pence: “I believe we are going to win.”