Stakes have never been this high for a vice presidential debate. With President Donald Trump, 74, ailing from Covid-19, voters watched for whether Vice President Mike Pence, 61, has what it takes to step into the commander-in-chief role if necessary. On the other side of the stage, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, 55, attempted to show that she, too, is ready to become president. Joe Biden, at 77 years old, would be the oldest man ever elected to the office if he were to win next month. While the debate wasn't as contentious as the Trump-Biden showdown last week, there were some sharp exchanges as the coronavirus continues to spread and America's economic recovery shows signs of slowing down.
Democrats raise millions during debate
Sen. Kamala Harris helped raise at least $5 million for Democrats during her debate with Vice President Mike Pence.
ActBlue, the fundraising service used by Democrats, processed the massive haul from the start of the debate until close to 11:00 p.m. ET, just after the event ended, according to the site's live ticker.
Though the fundraising total is likely a significant boost to Democrats up and down the ticket, the amount may end up being less than what was raised when Harris' running mate, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, took on President Donald Trump between similar time periods during their debate.
Biden ended up raising close to $10 million during the night of the first debate. Biden used the vice presidential debate to raise money, tweeting out a picture of him with a fly swatter and the caption "Pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly," along with a link to a donation page. The tweet was clearly taking aim at a fly on Pence's head during the debate.
A spokesman for the Trump campaign, Tim Murtaugh, did not return a request for comment. A spokesman for Biden did not return a request for comment.
The ActBlue fundraising total continued to surge while CNBC was preparing this post, and the live ticker showed that it processed at least $6 million in contributions. –Brian Schwartz
Candidates leave lingering questions about peaceful transfer of power, presidential disability
As the vice presidential debate came to a close, two of arguably the most important questions about the future of the U.S. presidency went unanswered.
Harris and Pence both dodged questions about whether they had plans or discussions with their running mates about what would happen in the event they were no longer able to fulfill the duties of the office of president. The question became top of mind for many Americans after Trump tested positive for Covid-19 last week and was later transported to a hospital.
Voters were also left without a clear sense of what either vice presidential candidate would do in the event Trump refused to hand over presidential power to Biden if he wins the election. —Lauren Feiner
Analysts not sure debate will make a difference
The debate is over. Will it matter? Experts are not convinced.
"This was a nice, standard VP debate: quiet, focused on the issues, full of question dodging and oftentimes simply infomercials for the presidential candidates -- so I doubt it will matter at all," G. Elliott Morris, a data journalist at The Economist, wrote in a post on Twitter.
Frank Luntz, a noted Republican consultant, said a focus group of undecided voters he conducted during the debate thought "both sides are ducking the questions."
"Feels like a draw. Don't see the few remaining undecideds changing their views on basis of this evening," wrote Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group.
Ross Douthat, conservative columnist at The New York Times, had this to say, "Main takeaway is that if Republican senators had removed Trump in January this race would be a lot closer." -- Tucker Higgins
Final question from Utah middle school student
Moderator Susan Page asked the vice presidential candidates the last question of the night submitted by an eighth grader from Springville, Utah.
"When I watch the news, all I see are two candidates from opposing parties, trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can't get along, how are the citizen supposed to get along?" Page read. "Your examples could make all the difference to bring us together." --Hannah Miao
On the peaceful transfer of power
– Brian Clark
Pence defends his stance on abortion
On the topic of abortion, Vice President Mike Pence said, "I'm pro-life. I don't apologize for it."
Regarding President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, Pence said he would not presume her standing on Roe v. Wade, but "will continue to stand strong for the right to life." —Hannah Miao
Critics allege sexism as Pence speaks over Harris and moderator Susan Page
Critics pounced on Pence for steamrolling Harris and moderator Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief of USA Today.
Some also said that Page could have done more to prevent Pence from speaking after his time ran out. And a few suggested that Harris should be allowed more time to compensate.
Echoes of the Trump-Biden debate: Pence bickers with moderator
Susan Page, the moderator, had played a mostly passive role for the first two -thirds of the debate. But when Harris tore into Trump over damning reports about his attitude and actions toward the U.S. military, Pence refused to move on without completing his rebuttal – and forcing a rebuke from Page.
"Joe Biden would hold Russia to account," Harris said after referencing reports that Russia offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. troops.
Page attempted to move on, but Pence insisted he be allowed to respond. When Page gave him 15 seconds, he replied, "I've got to have more than that."
"The slanders against President Donald Trump regarding men and women of our armed forces are absurd," Pence said.
Page cut in, but Pence kept talking, leading to a moment reminiscent of the interruption-fest between Trump and Biden a week earlier.
"You've had more time than she's had so far" Page said amid the crosstalk. "I did not create the rules tonight." –Kevin Breuninger
A dispatch from China
Pence and Harris lay out different visions on the environment
– Brian Clark
Obama's Ebola czar hits back at Pence
When swine flu spread around the world in 2009, Joe Biden's chief of staff at the time was Ron Klain, a career Democratic staffer. Klain later went on to oversee the Obama administration's response to the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
Today Klain is a top advisor to Biden, so when Vice President Mike Pence criticized the Obama administration's response to the deadly swine flu epidemic, Klain defended the Obama-Biden record.
Klain is correct that swine flu claimed around 14,000 American lives. So far, just over 211,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. – Christina Wilkie
Candidates take on climate change
Moderator Susan Page segues to the next debate topic: climate change.
"Do you believe, as the scientific community has concluded, that man-made climate change has made wildfires bigger, hotter and more deadly, and it made hurricanes wetter, slower, and more damaging?" Page asks.
Vice President Mike Pence answers first. —Hannah Miao
Harris attacks Trump's reported tax revelations
Harris brought up last month's bombshell report from The New York Times, which said Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and another $750 the following year.
That report also said that the president is personally responsible for more than $420 million in debt, most of which is coming due within the next four years.
Trump has denied the accuracy of the report. But Harris raised alarms about the president's finances.
"It'd be really good to know who the president of the United States, the commander in chief, owes money to, because the American people have a right to know what is influencing the president's decisions," she said.
Pence replied that Trump has paid millions in taxes, and added, "The president said those public reports are not accurate."
Trump broke with decades of tradition as a presidential candidate in 2016 by refusing to publicly release his tax returns. --Kevin Breuninger
Harris demands transparency from Trump
– Brian Clark
First impressions start to emerge
A half-hour has barely passed, but analysts on the left and right are declaring winners.
"Pence looks pale, sinister and thoroughly insincere. @KamalaHarris is destroying him with her incredulous looks," political strategist Steve Schmidt wrote in a post on Twitter.
"Did Pence just say 'stop playing politics with people's lives?'" former news anchor Dan Rather wrote on the platform. "Millions of Americans choke on whatever they're eating. Irony has no place on a VP debate stage."
Conservative radio host Buck Sexton, meanwhile, tweeted that "Pence has her outclassed on presentation and policy. This is going to get increasingly rough for Kamala." --Tucker Higgins
Now on to the economy
Moderator Susan Page pivots the conversation to the economy.
Sen. Kamala Harris is up first. "Would raising taxes put the recovery at risk?" Page asks.
Kamala Harris slams Trump on vaccine
– Brian Clark
Pence is living up to his rep as a good debater
We're being reminded tonight of why most voters in 2016 thought Vice President Mike Pence won his debate against Sen. Tim Kaine. A former radio talk show host, Pence led with smooth, prepared responses and a quick dig at former Vice President Joe Biden.
He also survived one of the toughest questions for the Trump White House: The question of hypocrisy in their personal approach to Covid-19 prevention.
"How can you expect Americans to follow safety guidelines when they weren't followed at the White House?" asked moderator Susan Page.
Pence replied: "We trust the American people to make the decisions that are best for their health." Not quite enough to put the subject to rest, but a polished smooth response. –Christina Wilkie
Pence asked about presidential disability
"Vice President Pence, have you had a conversation or reached an agreement with President Trump about safeguards or procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability and if not, do you think you should?" moderator Susan Page asked Pence.
Republicans accuse Harris of lying about Trump 'hoax' comments
Republicans are taking aiming at Harris over her remark that the president called the coronavirus a "hoax."
"SIX independent fact-checkers have debunked this claim, including the Washington Post, which gave it 4 Pinocchios," a Trump campaign spokesman, Francis Brennan, wrote in a post on Twitter.
GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also accused Harris of "lying" about the president's comments.
"@realDonaldTrump never called coronavirus a 'hoax.' And if Biden were in charge, we would never have restricted travel," McDaniel wrote.
Fact-checkers have said that Trump has called the Democrats' reaction to his handling of the coronavirus a hoax, not the virus itself. --Tucker Higgins
Harris comes out swinging
The first question of the debate, on the coronavirus, went to Harris, who wasted no time launching a fiery attack on the Trump administration.
"The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country," she began.
Harris highlighted the staggering death toll of the virus in the U.S., and slammed the White House for failing to act in the early days of the pandemic.
"They knew what was happening and they didn't tell you," she said. "They knew, and they covered it up."
Pence responded, addressing the victims of Covid-19: "You'll always be in our hearts." --Kevin Breuninger
First question goes to Harris
Moderator Susan Page asks Sen. Kamala Harris the first question of the debate: What would the Biden administration do to combat the coronavirus pandemic?
Ahead of the debate, polls favor the Biden-Harris ticket
In terms of poll numbers, Harris and Pence aren't heading into the vice presidential debate on equal footing.
Biden has held a steady lead over Trump in the polls for much of the general election. In the wake of Trump's Covid-19 diagnosis – and the vicious first presidential debate last week, which Trump is widely believed to have lost – Biden has lurched further ahead in the national averages.
With the vice presidential contenders about to take the stage NBC News' polling average currently shows Biden leading Trump by more than 10 percentage points, 52.1%-41.4%.
FiveThirtyEight's polling tracker has Biden up 9.5 points. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Biden with a 9.7-point advantage.
Some polls, including a recent survey from CNBC/Change Research, show Biden is also leading Trump in a series of swing states that are crucial to an Electoral College victory. –Kevin Breuninger
Taylor Swift endorses Joe Biden
Pop superstar Taylor Swift endorsed Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president ahead of tonight's vice presidential debate.
"Gonna be watching and supporting @KamalaHarris by yelling at the tv a lot," Swift said on Twitter.
Swift made the announcement in V Magazine's Thought Leaders Issue, saying Biden's campaign advocates for women, people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community.
The singer had largely stayed out of politics to avoid alienating fans until 2018, when she endorsed former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat who lost that year's U.S. Senate race to Republican Marsha Blackburn. Since then, Swift has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump. – Hannah Miao
Trump makes coronavirus stimulus talks into a big issue
Seventy-two hours ago, the stimulus negotiations taking place on Capitol Hill between Senate Republicans and House Democrats were not high on the list of topics for tonight's debate.
But that was before President Donald Trump shocked Washington on Tuesday by announcing via tweet that he had just "instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill."
The tweet sent markets, anxious for a big injection of stimulus, tumbling. On Capitol Hill, it left both Republican and Democratic lawmakers scratching their heads. Why, four weeks before the election, would the president walk away from the table so abruptly, and leave millions of Americans who were counting on business loans and stimulus checks in the lurch?
Whatever the reason, Mike Pence should be prepared to defend it tonight. – Christina Wilkie
Medical journal calls for U.S. to vote leaders out over pandemic response
In an unprecedented move, the 208-year-old New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial on Wednesday condemning the Trump administration and calling for the U.S. to vote its leaders out over the botched response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The piece, which is signed by all of the journal's editors, said that President Donald Trump and his administration "have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy."
The coronavirus has infected more than 7.5 million people in the U.S. and killed at least 211,500, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
"The magnitude of this failure is astonishing," the journal wrote. "Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment."
The journal stopped short of endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. —Will Feuer
Plexiglass barriers at debate ‘are a joke,’ experts say
Wednesday night's vice presidential debate will see plenty of extra coronavirus precautions, but pictures of two curved plexiglass barriers have some epidemiologists and airborne pathogen specialists scratching their heads.
Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris will be seated more than 12 feet apart and separated by two plexiglass barriers. But those dividers are "entirely symbolic," according to Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University.
Kimberly Prather, a distinguished professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of California at San Diego, said of the barriers, "When I saw it I laughed, but it's not funny."
Jose-Luis Jimenez, a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies how aerosols spread the virus, said the dividers "are a joke. It is just theater, to make it look like they are taking some precautions." —Will Feuer
What Pence and Harris need to do
Pence and Harris will be seated more than 12 feet apart on the debate stage in Utah. Taking center stage, in all likelihood, will be the coronavirus pandemic.
Harris is expected to harshly critique the Trump administration's response to the Covid-19 crisis, which has killed more than 210,000 people in the U.S. The president's own battle with the virus, which sent him to the hospital over the weekend, may force her to temper her sharpest attacks against his character, however.
With Trump being treated at the White House – and off the campaign trail – Pence bears the burden of trying to revive the Trump campaign, which has recently fallen well behind Biden's campaign in national polls.
Here's what else Pence and Harris need to do in their first and only debate. – Kevin Breuninger