Sen. Tim Kaine On Debate: Pence 'Is A Great Debater,' But Harris 'Raring To Go'

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Sen. Tim Kaine asks a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to discuss the Trump administration’s FY 2021 budget request for the State Department on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)
Sen. Tim Kaine asks a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to discuss the Trump administration’s FY 2021 budget request for the State Department on July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris meet in their only debate Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

The showdown comes as President Trump is being treated for COVID-19 at the White House, and Election Day is less than four weeks away.

Sen. Tim Kaine, who debated Pence in 2016 as Hillary Clinton's running mate when she was the Democratic presidential nominee, says Harris is “raring to go.” But he is concerned about safety at the debate, given Pence’s close contacts with Trump and other White House staffers who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I saw that Dr. [Robert Redfield], the head of the Centers Disease Control and Prevention, said the contact was not so close that it should prohibit the debate from going forward,” Kaine says. “But it does seem like all these rules are being upended. I am at least glad that the debate organizers are installing plexiglass shields and moving Kamala and the vice president farther apart, so they don't pose any danger to each other or anybody else.”

Through working with Harris in the Senate, Kaine says he expects her to do well against the vice president, but he admits that “Pence is a great debater.”

“Remember, he was a radio talk show guy before he was in politics,” Kaine says. “So he can look in a camera and deliver a line, you know, even if it's not necessarily a truthful one, but he can do it with a great deal of sincerity.”

Interview Highlights 

On what Sen. Harris will need to do in Wednesday night’s debate with Pence

“I would say this: A key feature of tonight's debate that was different than 2016 was [that] in 2016, neither party was the incumbent, so Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were each making their case, their vice presidential nominees were, too, about 'here's what we'll do if we're in office.' [In] this debate, there's an incumbent administration. The Trump-Pence administration has had four years, and so Kamala Harris, the prosecutor, has a lot of evidence. It's not just about what you're going to do. Let's look at what you've done. We have deaths at an unprecedented scale because of coronavirus. We've lost 10 million jobs since March. There's social division unlike any time since the 1960s. Do you want four more years of that, or would you like to return to competence and character and compassion? So I think she needs to marshal the evidence that she's got plenty of it. And she's used to doing that as a longtime prosecutor and effective senator in these committee hearings, as we've seen her.”

On whether Congress and the president can reach a deal on COVID-19 economic relief before the election 

“President Trump killed that [Tuesday]. He did that announcement right when ... [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] and [Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin] were scheduled to talk to try to further narrow down differences, and we were hopeful we would get there. Remember, we had the experience in March in the Senate of the Republicans offering a partisan proposal on a Sunday that we voted down, but once we voted that down, that then led to significant discussions and we got a deal that was good for American people — small businesses, hospitals, states.

"The same dynamic [is] in play right now. The Senate Republicans put an insufficient proposal on the table in mid-September. We voted it down. And that was, like, the start of the real negotiation. We thought we were getting close. [As to] why the president would come out of the hospital and just suddenly decide he wanted to terminate negotiations the same day that the [Federal Reserve] chief, Jay Powell, was saying, 'You've got to do another bill and it should be bigger, not smaller' — we're still trying to figure out why the president cut off all discussions.”

On whether Americans will now have to wait until January for economic relief from Washington

“Here's my sense: The American public overwhelmingly [wants] us to do another COVID bill. They want us to wait till after the election on the Supreme Court, but they want us to do a COVID bill right now. If President Trump is reelected, he'll want another bill for his own sake. If Joe Biden is elected, I don't think the Senate GOP is going to be thinking that much about President Trump. They're going to be thinking about their own elections in 2022 and 2024, and they're going to be listening to the citizens. I think the odds are high [that] we'll be getting a COVID bill in November or December. It's just a shame that we've had to wait. Remember, the House passed the fifth bill, the HEROES Act, in May. Why ...  we'd have to wait for six months to do it is beyond me.”

On whether Republicans will be able to get Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court before the election 

“If they want to break the promise that they made us and the American public that in a presidential election year, you should wait till after the election to let the people decide, they can do that. Well, they seem to be saying that they do want to break that promise … So if they are really, you know, just 'we've got to do this,' ... actually it's not the Election Day that's the key. What's the key is Nov. 10, the day that the Supreme Court takes up the Affordable Care Act case. They're rushing this nomination because they want to ensure that they can kill the Affordable Care Act and take health insurance away from millions.

"This is what they've tried to do since the first day President Trump was in office, so if they are just absolutely dedicated to having her in the seat on Nov. 10 to kill the Affordable Care Act, they can do it. However, there's always a chance that something during the Judiciary Committee hearings could cause someone to rethink, ‘Do we really need to rush this?’ I think it's unlikely, but it's not a zero chance. And so I know my Judiciary Committee colleagues are working real hard to try to illuminate the kinds of things that would make other senators and the American public wary about rushing.”

Alex Ashlock produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray and Peter O'Dowd. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on October 7, 2020.


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Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.


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Samantha Raphelson Associate Producer, Here & Now
Samantha Raphelson is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.



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