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Civil vice presidential debate short on answers as VP Pence evades question on plan to replace ACA

President Trump says he will not participate in the next presidential debate on Thursday, October 15, if it's virtual, as planned.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence debate Wednesday at the University of Utah. (Getty photo by Alex Wong)Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence debate Wednesday at the University of Utah. (Getty photo by Alex Wong)

The vice presidential debate was more civil than last week's presidential sparring, but if viewers expected more substance, the evasiveness of some of the candidates' answers showed more could be learned from what was not said.

The next presidential town-hall style debate on Thursday, October 15 will be virtual, the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced. President Trump, who has COVID-19, has said he would not participate in a virtual debate.

Healthcare discussion during Wednesday's VP debate centered on COVID-19, the ramifications of Judge Amy Coney Barrett's appointment to the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade, and the super-spreader event her nomination at the White House Rose Garden has become. Numerous officials who were at the event and many within Trump's inner circle have tested positive for COVID-19.

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Vice President Mike Pence avoided a question by moderator Susan Page on President Trump's plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments to strike down the ACA on November 10.

Page specifically asked how Trump would maintain protections and affordable insurance for people who have pre-existing conditions should the ACA be struck down. Pence instead accused Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris and Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden of wanting to pack the Supreme Court by adding seats.

Harris didn't address the accusation. Pence called Obamacare a disaster.

Harris said of the Trump Administration's efforts to get rid of the ACA: "If you have a preexisting 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."

But the bulk of the debate on healthcare centered on the coronavirus, with Harris calling the Trump Administration's handling of the pandemic "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country."

More than 210,000 Americans have died, over 7 million people have been infected and millions of people have filed for unemployment, Harris said. She also said that one in five businesses has closed, a statement that fact checkers have said is not accurate as of now. 

Harris said that Trump covered up the seriousness of the pandemic and didn't tell the American people what was happening.

Pence replied, "But I want the American people to know that from the very first day, President Donald Trump has put the health of America first."

Trump suspended all travel from China,  a decision opposed by Biden, Pence said.

"And I believe it saved hundreds of thousands of American lives. Because with that time, we were able to reinvent testing. More than 115 million tests had been done to date. We were able to see to the delivery of billions of supplies, so our doctors and nurses had the resources support they needed. And we began – really before the month of February – we started to develop a vaccine and to develop medicines and therapeutics that have been saving lives all along the way."

Tens of millions of doses of a vaccine will be ready before the end of this year, Pence said. 

"The reality is, when you look at the Biden plan, it reads an awful lot like what President Trump and I, and our task force has been doing every step of the way," Pence said. "And quite frankly, when I look at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine, it looks a little bit like plagiarism, which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about."

As to the Rose Garden event, Pence said that many people there were tested for coronavirus, and it was an outdoor event, which scientists regularly and routinely advise.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com