Kamala Harris and Mike Pence were asked during Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate about their plans to assume executive power in the case of presidential “disability” — and their non-answers caused a stir.
The question: “One of you will make history on January 20,” said the moderator, Susan Page, about 15 minutes into the event at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “You will be the vice president to the oldest president the United States has ever had.”
- “Have you had a conversation or reached an agreement … about safeguards or procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability, and if not, do you think you should?” she asked each candidate.
- Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief, noted that on Inauguration Day, President Donald Trump will be 74 years old and former Vice President Joe Biden will be 78.
The answers: Both Pence, the Republican vice president, and Harris, a Democratic senator from California, dodged the question.
- Pence responded by criticizing the Obama administration’s response to the 2009 swine flu.
- Harris recited her life story, beginning with her birth to an immigrant mother and then tracing her pathbreaking political rise as a black woman.
- “I think Joe has asked me to serve with him because he knows that we share a purpose, which is about lifting up the American people,” she concluded.
Page did not followup with either of the nominees and instead moved on to her next question.
The reaction: Commentators across the political spectrum lamented that what they said was the most important question of the night went unanswered.
Reason reporter Eric Boehm argued that presidential succession was really the “only” important issue at stake in the debate.
- He observed that Trump is infected with COVID-19 and “[m]ost Americans think Biden won’t finish even a single four-year term in the White House.”
CNN host Brian Stelter made a similar point in his “Reliable Sources” newsletter.
- “Of all the critical questions that were asked and ignored on Wednesday night, this one was the most important, IMHO,” he wrote. “After Pence and Harris used the time to give speeches, Page should have asked the question again. And again!”
Trump, calling into Fox Business on Thursday morning, deemed Harris’ debate performance “terrible” and predicted that, if elected, she would almost immediately succeed Biden.