OPINION: The Trump administration forfeited its right to reelection in VP debate


The vice presidential debate between Democratic nominee Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Vice President Mike Pence in Salt Lake City, Utah, is seen Wednesday night on TV in Washington, D.C. Tribune News Service

The vice presidential debate proved what we all already knew.

We already knew the Trump administration had no remorse for its ineptitude in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, in which more than 210,000 Americans have now died. They knew what was happening in January. They knew how dangerous the coronavirus was, and they knew it would kill many thousands of Americans. And still they did nothing.

We already knew Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump are actively working to undermine action on climate change. We know they’re trying their hardest to strike down the Affordable Care Act and throw millions of Americans into bankruptcy from medical debt. We know they’ve fumbled this year’s economic recovery, misled the American public about the president’s health and promoted misinformation about the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The vice presidential debate was yet another clarion call to the American people about the perils of this administration. It was also another clear showing of the future Biden administration’s refreshing preparedness, stability and poised leadership. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., showed her ability to lead, bring Americans together and respect the rules of the debate — three things Pence failed miserably to do.

The debate began with a rehashing of the Trump administration’s appalling failure to contain the coronavirus. Its failure was so deep and so abhorrent that some models project it will directly lead to almost 300,000 American deaths by the end of 2020. 

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any administration in the history of our country,” Harris said in the opening moments of the debate. 

She was absolutely correct. There was no reason for it to be this bad. In just the past few weeks alone, there have been more coronavirus cases recorded in the White House than in all of Taiwan, which houses more than 23 million people. That is a lethal international failure unlike any seen from the United States in recent memory.

Pence was unable to defend his unforgivable foundering as head of the coronavirus task force. His only talking point on the subject was the administration’s supposed foresight on its ban of air travel from China. The ban was full of holes, though. Hundreds of thousands of travelers from China arrived in the U.S. in the weeks after the ban. Some scientists have even argued the sweeping bans have made Americans more vulnerable to future pandemics. 

Harris was correct when she later argued this administration has “forfeited” its right to reelection based on this abject failure. Perhaps the only thing equally as repulsive as the administration’s disregard for more than 210,000 dead Americans was its coverup of the impending pandemic in January. According to an exposé from journalist Bob Woodward referenced by Harris in the debate, the Trump administration knew the truth about the coronavirus months before the first precautionary measures were implemented. 

Pence had no substantive answer.

In an open admission of his administration’s incompetence, Pence blamed China for the COVID-19 pandemic, apparently confessing the Trump administration is entirely responsive to China and makes no effort to protect the American people based on American intelligence. Pence argued Trump “is not happy” about China’s role in the pandemic, but he gave the American public no course of action the administration would take to fix the crisis. Of course, this is reflective of the administration’s entire response to the pandemic — just ignore it and hope it goes away.

Later in the debate, the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal the ACA displayed an especially grotesque side of the administration. Harris correctly pointed out the administration is currently in federal court trying to strike down the Affordable Care Act, the landmark 2010 health care law that protects millions of Americans with preexisting conditions from being barred from health insurance. 

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

If the ACA were to be struck down, the coronavirus could be considered a preexisting condition, according to a Washington Post report. The Trump administration has no plan to replace the ACA, despite Pence’s claim that he and Trump “have a plan” to “protect preexisting conditions for every American.”

If the administration succeeds in court, the millions of Americans who have contracted the coronavirus would be considered to have a preexisting condition. They would likely be stranded without health insurance, and left to go into bankruptcy. 

On the issue of climate change, the stark contrasts between an administration laser-focused on putting the U.S. at risk of environmental catastrophe and a Biden administration that respects science could not be more clear. While Harris called out the administration’s failures in containing the West Coast’s wildfires earlier this year and identified climate change as an “existential threat,” Pence falsely claimed “forest management” was to blame and argued we still don’t know what’s causing the climate to change. 

This would be a laughable stance if the possibility of this administration’s reelection didn’t portend so much catastrophe for so many people.

The Trump administration has been one of the most irresponsible and disastrous administrations in American history. The vice presidential debate perfectly illustrated the clear cut differences between the administrations that Harris and Pence represent. The Pence route lets 210,000 Americans die on its watch, allows the West Coast to burn and actively tries to remove health care from millions of people. Harris would protect Americans from the pandemic, promote environmental conservation and expand health care coverage.

But we all already knew what the choice was. Now, the only thing left to do is vote.

Sarah Waters (she/her) is a freshman pre-law student studying law and public policy. She is involved with College Democrats at IU and the Hutton Honors Council Association.

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