The U.S. Vice Presidential Debate: Starring Kamala Harris, Mike Pence And ‘The Fly’

On the 7th of October in Salt Lake City, Utah, the 2020 U.S. Vice Presidential candidates, Californian Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, went head to head. But, what exactly happened, and why is everyone talking about a damn fly?

Here are the big takeaways from the U.S. Vice Presidential Debate featuring Kamala Harris, Mike Pence and an extra special guest 😉

Covid-19 dominated the talking points

Going into the U.S. Vice Presidential Debate, we knew that COVID-19 was going to be the elephant in the room for every question, but conversations about the pandemic and both parties’ responses plagued the entire debate.

As of writing, John Hopkins University reports that the U.S. has 7.5 million of the 36 million global confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 211,000 dead from the global pandemic. And, sadly, that number isn’t stopping and got to that point because of the U.S. government’s delayed response in handling the pandemic.

When the virus first began to hit U.S. shores in January, Donald Trump labelled it ‘a hoax.’ Then, for months, he called it “China’s virus,” and refused to take it seriously. It wasn’t until July when he wore a face mask publicly for the first time. Then, when he caught the virus just this week, he began boasting to “not let it dominate your life,” returned to the White House while still infected and now, is weaponising COVID-19 relief by refusing to give it out until after the election. 

For that and so many other reasons, it’s no wonder Senator Kamala Harris called their response “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”

“They knew what was happening and they didn’t tell you,” she said at the beginning of the debate, per The New York Times. “They knew and they covered it up.”

In response, Mike Pence claimed that the Biden campaign’s plan for handling COVID-19 “reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way.” Because, uh, apparently “advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine”—y’know, genuine decisions to combat a global pandemic recommended by the World Health Organisation—is plagiarism? Okay. Sure, Pence. 

“Whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done, clearly it hasn’t worked,” Harris replied. “When you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country, American lives that have been lost, families that are grieving that loss. And, you know, the vice president is the head of the task force.”

Elsewhere in the debate, Harris declared that Biden had no plans to ban fracking… Brb, dying at the irony and forthcoming environmental doom of Former Vice President Joe Biden urging voters to “listen to the scientists” but also choosing to not ban fracking, which scientists say is a pretty big climate problem. I hate this timeline. 

Mike Pence tried to present himself as a calmer more traditional Presidential contrast to Donald Trump

Throughout the U.S. Vice Presidential Debate, Vice President Mike Pence spoke in a calmer, less chaotic demeanour to his Presidential counterpart, President Donald Trump. 

In an act of good showmanship, Pence congratulated Senator Kamala Harris for “the historic nature of your nomination” as the first Black woman and person of Indian heritage on a major party ticket. Then, he gave his condolences to the families who have lost loved ones to the global pandemic.

“There’s not a day gone by that I haven’t thought of every American family that has lost a loved one,” he said. “I want all of you to know, you’ll always be in our hearts and our prayers.”

Kamala Harris: “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking”

Pence’s calm facade didn’t stop him interrupting Harris when she answered a question about tax cuts, seconds before we got perhaps the second best clap-back in political history. Second to Julia Gillard’s iconic misogyny speech, ofc. 

“Mr. Vice President,” Harris said, “I’m speaking. I’m speaking.” Then, as Pence continued to interrupt her, she looked more and more visibly annoyed, almost laughing it off before saying, “if you don’t mind letting me finish, we can then have a conversation.” Mic drop. 

Per The New York Times, within minutes of the debate, Harris’s retort began trending online. Soon after, “the phrase was all over merchandise being sold on the online marketplace Etsy. Variations of it showed up on T-shirts, mugs, face masks and laptop decals.”

On one hand, U.S. politics and capitalism is a curse, on the other, it was a powerful inspiring moment for young girls—and young girls of colour, especially—to stand up to being cut off and interrupted or seen as less important in a room. 

A fly literally got more screen time than Mike Pence, and I’m at peace with that

In a completely surreal turn of events that basically broke the entire audience of the U.S. Vice Presidential Debate, a fly—I kid you not—flew and landed on Mike Pence’s head. Reports say it’s unclear whether the buzzy little critter is left-leaning and did this as an act of mini-political-activism, or merely needed a seat to rest his little insect wings, but one thing’s for sure: everyone saw it. According to a local news reporter for NBC San Francisco Bay Area, “the fly was there for two minutes [and] three seconds. I went back and counted.”

The fly’s cameo had a bigger impact in those two minutes and three seconds than Vice President Mike Pence had for 90 minutes on-screen. A quick Twitter search shows you hundreds of new profiles named “Mike Pence’s fly,” and people are even making fancams for the little guy.

In a further reminder that U.S. politics is a curse (part 2), shortly after the Vice Presidential Debate ended, the Biden campaign began selling… Biden-campaign-branded… fly swatters. Again, I say: I hate this timeline. 

Both Pence and Harris avoided a question about their presidential candidates’ age

No matter what the result is at the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, it’ll be historic. Both presidential candidates, Trump and Biden, will be, if elected, the oldest President in American history—Donald Trump is 74-years-old while Joe Biden is 77-years-old. 

So, having an election in the middle of a deadly virus that’s specifically life-threatening to the elderly, and as one of them literally has COVID-19, you have to be prepared for the reality that they might not be able to run for the full four years. But, when moderator Susan Page asked the pair whether they or their parties discussed what they were going to do if their chosen Presidential candidate couldn’t lead the full four year term of presidency, they both chose to ignore the question entirely, albeit giving very different responses. 

When asked, Pence refused to answer, switching gears to return to a conversation about a coronavirus vaccine. Harris, too, sidestepped the question, using her allocated time to re-introduce herself to the public and breakdown her career. 

Reading into these answers deeper, it seemed like Pence interpreted it as, “Trump won’t die during his next tenure because we’ll have a vaccine, maybe,” while his Democratic counterpart answered like a job interview. Harris’s response implies she went into this Vice Presidential debate knowing that, if elected, there was a chance she could be President of the United States during the next four years. Tying into Harris’s previous statement about how a leader should inform their people with all the information—even the ones that scare us—it felt like she was accepting her potential responsibility and the potential leadership she may have to take on. 

The next U.S. Presidential Debate between Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump is supposed to be held in Miami on Thursday, the 16th of October. But, as Joe Biden said, via The New York Times, “I think if [Donald Trump] still has Covid, we shouldn’t have a debate.”

Header image source: Justin Sullivan/Pool via AP.

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a writer and producer. He also claims to be a vine historian, avid connoisseur of low-fi beats, indie hip hop and Kermit memes. In a perfect world, he’d be married to Tyler the Creator, own an Arcanine and a Lapras, and don his own Sailor Scouts uniform. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster, which is also, coincidentally, how one might describe him.