NEW YORK — As U.S. President Donald Trump recovers from a COVID-19 infection, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris went head to head in this election cycle’s sole vice presidential debate Wednesday night.
With less than a month until the Nov. 3 elections, the 90-minute debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City is expected to receive outsize interest, as the two battle to convince voters they are ready to step into the top job if necessary.
Here’s how it happened (U.S. Eastern time):
10:36 p.m. Harris ended the debate with a call to action for young people to vote. “I do believe the future is bright,” she said.
10:32 p.m. On the debate, Pence says: “Here in America, we can disagree, we can debate vigorously, but when the debate is over, we come together as Americans. We love a good debate, we love a good argument, but we always come together [in the end].”
10:31 p.m. “We’re going to win this election,” says Pence. “President Trump and I are fighting in court everyday to [prevent] voting by mail, which will create massive opportunity for voter fraud.”
10:26 p.m. Harris says that Republicans are abandoning trump. “Seven members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet or supporting our ticket,” she says, touting the broad coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents the Biden campaign has built around itself.
10:20 p.m. Pence on race: “This presumption you constantly hear from Biden and Harris that America is systematic racist… is a great insult… to the men and women who put on a uniform everyday.”
10:18 p.m. Harris on racial justice: “Look, I’m a former career prosecutor. I know what I’m talking about. Bad cops are bad for good cops.” A Biden administration would ban chokeholds, require a national registry for officers who break the law, get rid of private prisons and decriminalized marijuana, she says.
10:16 p.m. “There’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd, but there’s also no excuse for rioting and looting,” Pence says.
The Supreme Court vacancy
10:07 p.m. On the Supreme Court, Harris says: “Let the American people fill that seat in the White House, and then we’ll fill that seat on the United States Supreme Court.”
10:05 p.m. On the Supreme Court, Pence says: “Your party is actively advocating to adding seats. This is a classic case of ‘If you can’t win, you change the rules.’ When you and Joe Biden win, are you going to pack the supreme court to get your way?”
China and foreign policy
9:54 p.m. On foreign policy, Harris says: “You’ve got to keep your word to your friends. You’ve got to be loyal to your friends. People who’ve stood with you, you’ve got to stand with them. You’ve got to know who your adversaries are, and keep them in check. But what we’ve seen with Donald Trump is that he has betrayed our friends and embraced dictators around the world.”
Harris, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says the administration’s unilateral approach to foreign policy, coupled with isolationism “has made America less safe.”
“The thing that has always been part of the strength of our nation, in addition to our great military, has been that we keep our word. Donald Trump doesn’t understand that because he doesn’t understand what it means to be honest.”
9:53 p.m. On the relationship with China, Harris says: “The Trump administration’s perspective, and approach to China has resulted in the loss of American lives, American jobs and America’s standing,” referring to its handling of the coronavirus, trade and international relations. “There’s a weird obsession that President Trump has had with getting rid of whatever accomplishment was achieved by President Obama and Vice President Biden.”
“Let’s talk about standing. Pew, a reputable research firm, has done an analysis that shows that leaders of all of our former allied countries have now decided that they hold in greater esteem and respect Xi Jinping, the head of the Chinese Communist Party, than they do Donald Trump, the president of the United States, the commander in chief of the United States.”
9:52 p.m. When asked about America’s relationship with China, Pence says: “First and foremost, China is to blame for the coronavirus. And President Trump is not happy about it…. China and the World Health Organization did not play straight with the American people. They did not let our personnel into China to get information on the coronavirus until the middle of February.”
“We want to improve the relationship but we want a level playing field. We will hold China accountable for what they did to America with the coronavirus,” Pence says.
9:48 p.m. “Lost the trade war with China? Joe Biden never fought it,” Pence responds. “Joe Biden has been a cheerleader for communist China over the last several decades.”
“Senator Harris, you are entitled to your own opinions, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts,” Pence says. “When Joe Biden was vice president, we lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs, and President Obama said they were never coming back. He said we needed a magic wand to bring them back. In our first three years after we cut taxes, pulled back regulations, unleashed American energy, and this administration saw 500,000 manufacturing jobs created. And that’s exactly the kind of growth we are going to continue to see as we bring our nation through this pandemic.”
9:47 p.m. Harris on Trump’s trade war with China: “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. Farmers have experienced bankruptcy because of it. We are in a manufacturing recession because of it”
9:46 p.m. Pence says the U.S. has “always cherished our environment and will continue to cherish it.” The U.S. has made great progress, he said, “through reducing CO2 emissions, through American innovation and the development of natural gas through fracking. We don’t need a massive $2 trillion green new deal.” Trump will put jobs first, will take care of the environment and follow the science, he says.
9:45 p.m. On climate change, Harris says: “We will achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and be carbon neutral by 2035, Joe has a plan.” She accuses the Trump administration of denying climate change and even science. “We will also re-enter the climate agreement with pride.”
The ailing economy
9:37 p.m. “Joe Biden is the one who during the Great Recession was responsible for the Recovery Act that brought America back and now the Trump-Pence administration wants to take credit,” Harris says, calling the current economy a disaster.
9:36 p.m. Pence portrays a Biden presidency as bad for the economy. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want to raise taxes,” Pence says, also claiming that Biden will repeal “all tariffs on China” and “surrender” to Beijing.
9:32 p.m. This is how Biden thinks about the economy: It “is about investing in the people of our country, as opposed to passing a tax bill,” Harris says.
9:29 p.m. Pence describes Trump as “a businessman, a job creator,” who has paid “tens of billions in taxes, [through] payrolls.”
9:28 p.m. “The one thing we all know about Joe — he puts it all out there. He is honest. He’s forthright,” Harris says. “But Donald Trump on the other hand, has been about covering up everything.”
9:27 p.m. Harris highlights her record as the first woman of color and black woman to be elected Attorney General of California and portrayed herself as a reformer of the criminal justice system — which lies at the center of U.S. race relations.
9:23 p.m. Harris digs into Pence’s defense that the Trump administration respects Americans’ freedom to make their own decisions: “It is asking too much of the people,” who are not given the information needed to protect themselves, she says, accusing the administration of withholding information.
9:20 p.m. On vaccine development, Pence shoots back at Harris’ criticism. “You continue to undermine the confidence in the vaccine, it’s just unacceptable,” Pence says. “We’re going to have a vaccine in less than a year, in unheard of time, we’re producing tens of millions of doses.”
9:15 p.m. When asked about the White House gathering to introduce Supreme Court justice candidate Amy Coney Barrett, which ended up being a “super-spreader” event, Pence says: “President Trump and I trust the American people to [make decisions] in the best interest of their health.”
Pence says the event was held outdoors, as recommended by medical professionals.
“We’re about freedom and respect the American people” when responding to their view on masks.
9:08 p.m. Harris slams the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus. “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” pointing to the more than 210,000 Americans who have lost their lives to the disease.
9:00 p.m. Debate begins. Moderator Susan Page announces that neither side has been told of the topics that will be raised at the event, or the questions that will be asked.
8:50 p.m. Pence is not only debating “as the vice president, but also head of Trump’s coronavirus task force,” Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, tells NBC News. It is clear that President Trump’s coronavirus response will be a hot topic tonight.
Beschloss says that Pence can deliver a blow to his opponent “in a nice way,” and Harris can do that too. There will be much to watch for.
8:45 p.m. “We all know Mike Pence is a very good debater,” Karine Jean-Pierre, senior advisor of the Biden-Harris campaign, tells ABC, in an apparent bid to downplay expectations.
But “this debate is about Donald Trump’s failure to contain COVID-19 [and to] help working families, and not just the last six months or seven months, really the last four years,” she says.
At the debate, Harris is going to “bring the case forward on why a Biden-Harris administration could lead to a different America.”
8:30 p.m. Indian-Americans are holding debate-watching events to root for Harris, whose mother was born in India. “We are expecting Kamala Harris to really outperform tonight and convince America that she is not a leftist,” Suresh Kumar, a professor of entrepreneurship at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, says as he sits down to watch the event with his wife and 10-year-old son in their apartment. A bowl of Papdi Chaat, a popular street food dish in India, is on the table.
“She is an excellent orator, very persuasive, very convincing,” New-York resident Neha Dewan says. Dewan, who works for a national law firm, is waiting to watch with her husband in their apartment, after putting their 7-year-old daughter to bed. They have popcorn and Gulab Jamun, an Indian dessert, ready for snacking.
Karthik Soora, an executive at a solar power company in Houston, says, “Since her middle name is Devi I’ll be praying to Durga Maa tonight (a Hindu goddess also known as the protective mother of the universe).” He will be watching with his wife and dog, Bhoomi (meaning Earth), who is dressed in Vote-for-Biden paraphernalia, in their apartment.
7:00 p.m. Two hours until kick off. Unlike with the presidential debate, the topics have not been announced. The debate will be divided into nine segments of approximately 10 minutes each, and be moderated by Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief.
Pence’s guests will include the parents of murdered ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller — an apparent attempt to attack the Obama-Biden administration’s record dealing with terrorism. Ann Marie Dorn, the widow of retired St. Louis police captain David Dorn, who was shot and killed on June 2 after a violent night of protests, is also on the guest list.
Harris has invited Utah state Rep. Angela Romero, a longtime community organizer for progressive causes, and Deborah Gatrell, a high school teacher running for Salt Lake County Council.