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Harris, Pence avoiding answers & pivoting during VP debate was ‘bad for voters’: expert

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi recap with the Vice Presidential debate with Brenna Center Senior Fellow, Ted Johnson.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And we have some breaking news for you. President Trump says he is not going to appear at the next presidential debate. The commission organizing the debates announced a short time ago that next week's event would be held virtually, but the president just said, quote, "I'm not going to waste my time." For their part, the Biden campaign said that the Democrat looks forward to speaking directly to the American people.

With us now is Ted Johnson, senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. So, Ted, I know you were on to talk about the vice presidential debate, but got to get your reaction to what we just heard here from President Trump.

TED JOHNSON: Yeah, it's a-- I mean, you can't keep up these days. But frankly, it's not surprising. It's first not surprising that the commission decided to go virtual with President Trump's positive diagnosis of having COVID. To bring him into a room with even a moderator and just Biden would have been reckless, so doing it virtually was the right call.

But frankly, President Trump is more interested in sort of the theater, I think, of debates, and virtually it's much harder to pull that off. We saw in the first presidential debate that the sort of-- the posturing and the interrupting, that was part of the Trump brand. And it's much harder to pull it off virtually, especially when a moderator may have the keys to the microphone that will, you know, make Trump quiet when he'd rather not be.

BRIAN SOZZI: Ted, let's get to last night's VP debate. It was much more issue driven-- much more issue-driven type of event with the candidates debating everything from coronavirus, taxes to the jobs picture. I want to play a part of the back and forth for you.


- 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.

- Lost the trade war with China? Joe Biden never fought it. Joe Biden has been a cheerleader for communist China through-- over the last several decades. And again, Senator Harris, you're entitled to your opinion. You're not entitled to your own facts. When Joe Biden was vice president, we lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs, and President Obama said they were never coming back.


ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now, of course, that is not entirely true. FactCheck.org says the US actually gained around 160,000 manufacturing jobs at the start of the trade war, but as of right now those gains have almost entirely been wiped out. As for Pence's claim, the US did have about 190,000 fewer manufacturing jobs when Obama left office, but that was partly because of the Great Recession. So, Ted, just overall, was there one big takeaway from last night's debate for you?

TED JOHNSON: Yeah, the big one is it was unremarkable. Usually that would be an insult, but given the presidential debate several days ago I think unremarkable, it was a plus here. Much more substantive, but essentially this was a Rorschach test for voters. If you came to this debate as a Republican wanting reason to continue supporting the Trump presidency despite the rhetoric on Twitter, despite some of the, you know, the feathers he's ruffled over the last few years, Pence gave you what you were looking for. It's sort of a reasoned defense of the administration's program of conservatism, and you probably latched on to that.

And conversely, if you are a Democrat looking for a reason to support the Biden-Harris ticket, Senator Harris gave you everything you were looking for in terms of [AUDIO OUT] down the Trump-Pence administration's record on coronavirus, on the economy, on race relations. And she sort of presented as a very stable, secure sort of straightforward figure and not-- didn't fill the caricature that's been made of her, sort of this radical left-leaning progressive that would be looking to burn the system down should she become vice president.

BRIAN SOZZI: Ted, how would you grade Kamala Harris's performance on the economy? It seems as though she did get roped into Pence's comments on raising higher taxes, and I would argue Joe Biden has been a little shaky on the economy. How would you grade Harris?

TED JOHNSON: So I think she presented the Biden-- Biden's economic plan accurately. And, you know, whether the claims of how much it will grow the economy or get us out of this current recession play out remains to be seen should they win. But I think by stating repeatedly that Biden would not raise taxes on those making below $400,000, that was the line that she wanted to leave voters with. That was the bumper sticker, and I think that stuck.

Also repealing the Trump tax cuts, which as she's pointed out on stage benefits those at the higher end of the income and wealth spectrum, I think is also something that will attract not just Democratic voters in terms of getting them mobilized, but whatever's left of independents that are still making up their mind. I think that tag line is one that will stick with them as well.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Would you say though that both of them really did a good job of deflecting? I mean, she also-- Harris also did not answer repeated questions by Pence about whether or not they would pack the Supreme Court if they were to win the White House.

TED JOHNSON: That's right. Yeah, they both did great jobs at pivoting, which is I think bad for the viewer and bad for voters. We didn't get a straight answer out of Senator Harris on the court packing. We didn't get a straight answer out of Vice President Pence on the 25th Amendment and sort of what would happen if-- or not the 25th Amendment, matter but whether it would be a peaceful transition of power should Trump lose the election.

So these are important issues. I think a more straightforward answer from Harris on the court packing would have been good, and I think it was absolutely mandatory that Pence commit to a peaceful transfer of power should Trump lose the election. And the fact that the sitting vice president didn't do that for me was more alarming than the hypothetical of what might happen with court-packing legislation should Biden-Harris win.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, sadly I think the star last night was that fly that sat on Pence's hair. (LAUGHING) He didn't to flinch, you know, and like Twitter blew up with people commenting on it. You know, there was some substance in this debate, certainly more than the last one. But at the end of the day, you know, is the fly going to be the thing we all remember, Ted?

TED JOHNSON: I think so. I mean, so remember seeing that within minutes of this happening, there was a Twitter account established for the fly, which is already triple the account-- the number of followers I have, (LAUGHING) so well done to the fly there.

But I also think one moment that will stick out is Kamala Harris looking directly into the camera and talking about Trump's health-care plans or lack thereof, saying they're coming for you. She said this repeatedly when talking about the Supreme Court nomination fight, which may revisit Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, its constitutionality and talking about removing those under 26 from their parents plans, talking about the danger of not having pre-existing conditions covered. And she looked squarely in the camera on a number of occasions and said they are coming for you.

And I think that is maybe the moment that sticks out most from this debate, and for that to be the moment suggests that this debate, again, wasn't full of a lot of firecrackers and fireworks. It was really a pretty mundane, pretty straightforward-- but again I think that's a positive thing given the nature of the presidential debate just days ago.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Mm-hmm. Yeah, and fear mongering on display once again-- that's usually the--

TED JOHNSON: Yeah, right.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: --case here at these debates. Ted Johnson of the Brennan Center, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate your time.

TED JOHNSON: Thank you.