Election 2020: Mike Pence vs Kamala Harris, On the Issues

Photos courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

Chris Walker (@cwlkr20) contributed to this article.

In August, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) formally accepted their respective party’s nominations for vice president. Tonight, they face off in their sole debate before the general election. What do they stand for, however?

Based on a recent Pew poll (July 27-Aug 2, 2020), let’s dive into the nominees’ positions on what voters consider the most important issues of the 2020 election. The voter response percentage is in parentheses.

Economy (79%)

Biden Voters: 72%, Trump Voters: 88%

Vice President Pence: Vice President Pence is in favor of cutting taxes for business and the wealthy. He did so as Governor of Indiana as recently as 2014 when he cut the state’s corporate tax. In 2009, he considered the stimulus package President Obama brought forth as making more debt, but would later request funds.

Senator Harris: Senator Harris supports a $15/hour federal minimum wage and six months of paid family and medical leave. She also supports “equal pay certification” for government contracts, aimed at fining corporations for paying women less than men for equal work.

Health Care (68%)

Biden Voters: 84%, Trump Voters: 48%

Pence: The father of three is in favor of Medicaid expansion and making it work with the Affordable Care Act, so co-payments would be expected by participants. In accord, Pence has defunded Planned Parenthood in Indiana. He does not agree with needle exchanges, despite evidence that the exchange of used needles for sterile needles can prevent the spread of STIs like HIV/AIDS.

Harris: In July 2019, Senator Harris unveiled her health care plan, which Politico described as “Medicare for All — with private insurers.” It’s hypocritical, given her sponsorship of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill. It indicates that she likely backtracked, due to how unpopular the bill turned out to be.

Supreme Court (64%)

Biden Voters: 66%, Trump Voters: 61%

Pence: The Vice President is a supporter of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the vacancy left by the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. He’s also been a critic of Chief Justice John Roberts, calling him “a disappointment to conservatives.”

Harris: The former California Attorney General pledged to consult with the National Urban League on judicial appointments during her presidential run in 2019. Harris is also open to packing the Supreme Court, a potential disagreement between her and her running mate.

Coronavirus (62%)

Biden Voters: 82%, Trump Voters: 39%

Pence: In February 2020, it was announced that Vice President Pence was going to be leading the White House’s task force for combating the coronavirus. This placed the former Indiana Governor in command of keeping communications between the White House and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) while a vaccine was in development.

Harris: Senator Harris would likely criticize Pence on his handling of the pandemic, and likely draw parallels to an HIV outbreak in Indiana during his tenure as governor. She will also probably ask Pence to comment on the White House’s protocols, given the recent outbreak that sent President Trump to the hospital.

Violent Crime (59%)

Biden Voters: 46%, Trump Voters: 74%

Pence: Vice President Pence supports requirements for police to wear body cameras. In March 2016, he signed into law a bill that brought back mandatory minimum sentencing for drug dealers, in response to Indiana’s methamphetamine problem. At the time, he expressed the need to focus on “reducing crime, not on reducing the penalties.”

Harris: Given her career as a prosecutor and attorney general, Senator Harris has been open to criticism of her record. Previously, she defended the death penalty, despite stating her personal objection. She stayed silent on previous criminal justice reform efforts and California Proposition 47, which reduced some felonies to misdemeanors. She also opposed a bill requiring her office to investigate officer-involved shootings. Senator Harris may be polarizing to Black voters, as these issues have historically impacted the Black community. This also puts her in an interesting position: she is vulnerable to attacks from the left, even if her opponent is to her ideological right.

Foreign Policy (57%)

Biden Voters: 57%, Trump Voters: 57%

Pence: On the campaign trail, the Vice President was supportive of President Trump’s “extreme vetting” proposals. He was also a critic of the Iran nuclear agreement, instead supporting keeping all the existing sanctions in place. He criticized President Obama’s handling of Cuba. He was a supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and multilateral negotiations as a supporter of free trade.

Harris: Harris has been critical of President Trump’s handling of North Korea, Russia, and China (particularly the trade war). She’s a supporter of the Iran nuclear agreement, but a critic of the TPP, arguing that it invalidated California environmental laws and had weak worker protections. She is also a critic of the USMCA.

Gun Policy (55%)

Biden Voters: 50%, Trump Voters: 60%

Pence: In June 2016, the Republican nominee tweeted about being a “strong proponent of the Second Amendment”. The former radio host has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA), likely tied to his 2011 efforts to weaken laws on interstate firearms, among other gun protection stances.

Harris: Senator Harris, a co-sponsor of the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, supports banning “assault weapons” and high capacity magazines as well as imports on “AR-15 style assault weapons.” She also previously vowed to take strong action on gun control, giving Congress a 100-day deadline before taking executive action. Ironically, her running mate told her this was unconstitutional at the September 2019 debate.

Race and Ethnic Inequality (52%)

Biden Voters: 76%, Trump Voters: 24%

Pence: If I’m being honest, Vice President Pence has very little information on his views of race or ethnicity. He did, however, address the deaths of George Floyd and Ahumaud Arbery. “We have no tolerance for racism in America,” he said in May 2020. “We have no tolerance for violence inspired by racism.” He was also a supporter of the First Step Act.

Harris: Harris has been accused of contributing to mass incarceration, which may be partially what tanked her campaign. That being said, the junior senator unveiled a plan to invest $60 billion in HBCUs in July 2019, and is a co-sponsor of Senator Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) bill proposing a commission to study reparations and his Marijuana Justice Act, having previously supported legal marijuana at the federal level and admitting to her past marijuana use. The senator also proposed a plan to spend $12 billion on entrepreneurship programs aimed at the Black community in July 2019.

Immigration (52%)

Biden Voters: 46%, Trump Voters: 61%

Pence: The native son of Indiana voted against the DREAM Act in 2010. In 2006, he brought forth an immigration strategy that would have deported illegal immigrants, but let them come back quickly. Pence was also strongly against having Syrian refugees in Indiana, based on security fears.

Harris: Senator Harris is a supporter of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and of citizenship for “DREAMers.” She is opposed to funding the president’s border wall and believes that illegal entry should be a civil offense rather than a criminal one. The daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants previously expressed a belief that it’s time to “re-examine” ICE, suggesting it may be time to “[start] from scratch.” She also co-sponsored the “REUNITE Act” aimed at reuniting families separated at the southern border.

Economic Inequality (49%)

Biden Voters: 65%, Trump Voters: 28%

Pence: The former lawyer wanted to privatize social security, supporting President George W. Bush’s push to partially do so, in 2005. He is in favor of raising the retirement age, amongst many different ways to limit social security.
 Harris: Senator Harris sponsored both the LIFT the Middle Class Act and the Rent Relief Act in 2018. The former proposed a $3,000 refundable tax credit to individuals making $50,000 or less per year and $6,000 for married couples earning under $100,000. The latter proposed federal rent assistance through a tax credit. She has indicated that she would repeal the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and replace it with LIFT.

Climate Change (42%)

Biden Voters: 68%, Trump Voters: 11%

Pence 2016: Pence has previously called climate change a myth. He was apprehensive about following carbon emission rules and challenged the Clean Power Plan. He softened his stance in 2016, noting that humans do have “some impact on the environment and some impact on climate.” Notwithstanding, Pence also urged President Obama to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Harris: In September 2019, Senator Harris unveiled a $10 trillion climate change plan. Senator Harris also proposed a wildfire preparedness bill, proposing an annual $1 billion investment for infrastructure, $250,000 grants to municipalities for R&D, and improving the state’s power grid. She is also a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal and a supporter of the Paris climate accord.

Abortion (40%)

Biden Voters: 35%, Trump Voters: 46%

Pence: The former governor of Indiana is firmly anti-abortion, signing into law a bill in 2016 that added further restrictions on abortions to Indiana’s already strict guidelines. Pence considers himself a “strong supporter of the rights of the unborn” and will always try to protect their ability to live. In 2017, he was the tie-breaking Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood.

Harris: The former district attorney co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2015, indicating she believes that women deserve access to “safe, legal abortion without restrictions.” She also supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, and has criticized her running mate’s prior support for it. In her final presidential debate, she expressed her belief that reproductive healthcare “is under full on attack.”


What do you think? Tune in tonight for the vice presidential debate, moderated by USA TODAY’s Susan Page! The second presidential debate is on October 15th. The third debate is October 22nd.


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