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Pence, Harris dodge direct answers in policy-focused debate

Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThere's still time to put Kamala Harris front and center Hillicon Valley: Biden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked | Majority of voters in three swing states saw ads on social media questioning election validity: poll | Harris more often the target of online misinformation The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Pollsters stir debate over Trump numbers MORE (D-Calif.) dodged and weaved their way through a largely cordial debate Wednesday night in Utah that was low on fireworks and heavy on policy.

Debate moderator Susan Page was able to keep the candidates in check. While there were a few interruptions, there was nothing that approached the verbal hectoring that defined President TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE’s outing against Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll Ivanka Trump raises million in a week for father's campaign On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election MORE last week.

But Page wasn’t always able to get straight answers out of the elusive vice presidential candidates, who filibustered and changed topics rather than responding to the questions that were given to them. 

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Pence wouldn’t say whether it was irresponsible for the White House to have held a Rose Garden ceremony that appears to have been a superspreader event that may have sickened the president and many others with the coronavirus. Harris wouldn’t say whether the Biden administration would impose onerous new lockdowns or a federal mask mandate to battle the coronavirus.

Neither candidate would answer when asked if they’d had discussions about safeguards and procedures if Trump, 74, or Biden, 77, were to become incapacitated in the White House.

Harris declined to account for her past support for the Green New Deal. Pence wouldn’t say if climate change represents an existential threat.

Pence dodged on how far he’d like to go in rolling back abortion rights, while Harris declined to answer when asked if she supports lifting all restrictions on abortions.

The candidates both talked around a question about what should happen if Trump refused to submit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses in November.

“Isn’t this information the voters deserve?” an exasperated Page asked at one point.

The candidates revealed very little new information about how they’d govern.

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And there were no election-altering exchanges, which is a win for the Biden campaign, as polls show the Democratic nominee building a formidable lead in national polls and in the key battleground states that will determine the outcome of the election.

The candidates avoided making news at all costs.

In one memorable exchange, Pence hounded Harris to answer whether the Biden administration would expand the size of the Supreme Court if Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Cony Barrett, is confirmed.

Some Democrats have talked openly about packing the high court if Republicans move forward with filling the vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgThe truth, the whole truth about protecting preexisting conditions McConnell plans to fill two key circuit court seats even if Trump loses GOP faces fundraising reckoning as Democrats rake in cash MORE at this late stage in the election.

Biden and Harris have steadfastly refused to answer the question, saying it will take attention away from Trump moving quickly to install his third Supreme Court Justice.

Harris again refused to answer on Wednesday night, instead accusing Trump of packing the courts with the scores of confirmations under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop Senate GOP super PAC makes final .6M investment in Michigan Senate race On The Money: McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 | Lawmakers see better prospects for COVID deal after election Overnight Health Care: House Dem report blasts Trump coronavirus response | Regeneron halts trial of antibody drug in sickest hospitalized patients | McConnell says Congress will take up stimulus package at start of 2021 MORE (R-Ky.).

“Did you know that of the 50 Trump appointed to the court of appeals not one is Black?” Harris fumed. “Talk about packing the court. Let’s have that discussion.”

“She never answered the question,” Pence responded. “Maybe at the next debate Joe Biden will answer.”

The candidates largely avoided the personal attacks that colored the first presidential debate and instead pivoted away from difficult questions to talk about their policy priorities.

Harris opened the debate with stinging attacks against the Trump administration over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, accusing the president of hiding important information from the public early on.

“The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” Harris said.

“The administration has forfeited their right to reelection because of it,” she added.

Pence fired back, arguing that Biden had opposed the administration’s move to shut down travel from China.

“He said it was xenophobic and hysterical,” Pence said. “That decision alone bought us invaluable time.”

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On the economy, where polls find Biden gaining on an issue that was once Trump’s strength, Pence drew attention to Biden’s pledge to eliminate the Trump tax cuts on his first day in office.

“You heard her,” Pence declared. “On Day One, Joe Biden will raise your taxes.”

Harris insisted that the Biden plan would not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year.

Harris repeatedly refuted Pence’s claims that the Biden administration would implement the Green New Deal and eliminate fracking. Both issues resonate in parts of the Midwest and Rust Belt, where the candidates are battling for the working-class voters that broke for Trump in 2016.

Harris co-sponsored the Green New Deal bill in the Senate, but Biden has been clear that he does not support that plan.

“I will repeat — Joe Biden will not ban fracking, that’s a fact,” Harris said. “I will repeat that Joe Biden has been very clear that he … will not increase taxes for anyone making less than $400,000.”

The candidates traded zingers on trade as well, with Harris accusing Trump of sowing mayhem for farmers with his tit-for-tat tariffs with China.

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“The president’s trade war with China — you lost it,” Harris said.

Pence responded by noting that Biden had voted for NAFTA and that Harris had opposed the administration's U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal that replaced it.

“Lost the trade war with China?” Pence asked. “Joe Biden never fought it. He’s been a cheerleader for the Chinese Communist Party for decades.”

Harris homed in on two of the president’s enduring and explosive controversies over the past four years — his racial rhetoric and his disparagement of military veterans, including the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe looming battle over Latino voters Who is 'Anonymous' author Miles Taylor? Why Biden could actually win Texas MORE (R-Ariz.).

“America, you deserve better,” Harris said. “Joe Biden will bring America together and recognize the beauty of our diversity.”

Pence accused the media of “selectively editing” Trump’s remarks on race and pointed to his own children, who serve in the military.

“The slanders against Donald Trump regarding men and women of the army are absurd,” Pence said.