Pence Changes The Topic On Hard Questions Again And Again And Again

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - OCTOBER 07: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence debates Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is ... SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - OCTOBER 07: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence debates Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020 in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is the only scheduled debate between the two before the general election on November 3. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 7, 2020 11:05 p.m.

There’s a tried-and-true rule for cable TV talking heads: Answer the question you want to answer, not the one you’re asked. 

Vice President Mike Pence, who hosted a talk radio show decades ago, put on an exemplary display of this strategy Wednesday night, during the vice presidential debate which pitted him against Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). 

It started when things got a little too personal for the vice president: President Donald Trump is 74 years old, moderator Susan Page noted, and he was just hospitalized with COVID-19. “Have you had a conversation or reached an agreement with President Trump about safeguards or procedures when it comes to presidential disability?” 

Pence didn’t apparently want to answer. The boss, after all, was watching and live tweeting. So instead, the vice president veered back to the previous question about the administration producing a vaccine for the virus. Page objected. “Well thank you,” he told her, “but I would like to go back.” 

Then it happened again, when Page asked if the American people deserved more information about the President’s health. His doctors have given misleading information about his COVID-19 diagnosis, she noted. 

“Let me say on behalf of the President and the first lady, how moved we’ve all been by the outpouring of prayers and concern for the President,” Pence filibustered. In short: No, the American people don’t deserve any more information.

And then again on climate change: “Sen. Harris just said that climate change is an existential threat. Vice President Pence, do you believe that climate change poses an existential threat?”

Well, yes and no. And no and yes. 

“As I said, Susan, the climate is changing and we’ll follow the science,” Pence said, without a trace of irony. He promptly pivoted to taxes without explaining further.

A few minutes later, asked specifically if he’d ban abortion if he were still governor of Indiana and a reconstituted Supreme Court allowed for such a possibility, Pence passed entirely. 

After a detour in which he spoke about Qassim Soleimani, Pence expressed his enthusiasm about Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and then criticized Democrats for scrutinizing her religious beliefs. No answer on Roe v. Wade, nor what he would do if he were a governor today. Even though his record and Coney Barrett’s record make their views quite clear, Pence added: “I would never presume how Judge Amy Coney Barrett would rule on the Supreme Court of the United States, but we’ll continue to stand strong for the right to life.”

Pence saved his best non-answer for the last half-hour of the debate, when Page asked how it was possible that the Trump administration is seeking in court to eliminate the Affordable Care Act — which provides legal protections for insurance shoppers with preexisting conditions — while at the same time claiming to have a plan for those same people. It’s never offered such a plan, and there likely won’t be any such plan detailed before Election Day. 

Pence, like most Republicans, decided to just not answer. 

“Thank you Susan, but let me just say…” he began, before talking about abortion again, and then, for some reason, about the history of Supreme Court nominations.

Voters curious about the Trump administration’s currently non-existent plan to cover those with pre-existing conditions if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act were left empty handed. For the President’s reelection campaign, perhaps that’s for the best.

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