Election 2020

Here’s what educators need to know about the vice presidential debate

By Amanda Menas

The Trump-Pence administration’s failure to contain COVID-19 and help students, educators, and working families through this national crisis was a focal point in the debate between vice presidential nominees Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence.

“The [Trump administration] knew what was happening and they didn’t help you,” said Harris directly to viewers at the start of the debate. Throughout the commercial-free event, she spoke to the American people about the Biden-Harris vision for a better America: contain COVID-19, build the economy back with attention to equity, help our students and educators, and bring our country together.

Pence’s opening statement was based on platitudes and offered little more than “thoughts and prayers” for the 210,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus pandemic. Pence’s failure as the leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force has also left nearly 30 million to rely on some form of unemployment and one in five small businesses closed. 

Trump and Pence knew by Jan. 28 that COVID-19 was airborne and lethal, but they panicked and chose to keep the truth from American families. As Sen. Harris said, Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s handling of COVID-19 is the greatest failure of any American presidency.

As a science teacher I can tell you this — Trump and Pence have never listened to the science,” said NEA President Becky Pringle in response to Pence’s statements during the debate. In contrast, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have promised throughout the campaign to listen to scientists on when to reopen schools and businesses, and to educators and experts on how to reopen.

Another issue of vital importance to the American public confronted during the VP debate was the recent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The nomination of Judge Barrett prompted the coronavirus super spreader event that left Trump hospitalized and nearly 30 staff members ill from COVID-19. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, Barrett threatens to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans without health coverage in the middle of the global pandemic.

Where Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have taken the virus seriously from day one–listening to experts and scientists, wearing masks in public consistently, and holding safer public events with limited attendance and social distancing–Trump and Pence have instead shown a lack of concern despite the shocking rate of spread and more than 210,000 American lives lost.

One of the biggest contrasts between the two vice presidential candidates lies in their stances on racial justice. 

“This is a time for leadership on a tragic, tragic issue of unarmed Black people in America who have been killed,” said Sen. Harris in response to questions about the murder of Breonna Taylor by police officers. Pence, however, refused to even acknowledge the impact of systemic and institutional racism on students, educators, and communities of color.

Harris highlighted that in a Biden administration, working families will have a partner in the White House. After guiding the economic recovery following the Great Recession as vice president, Joe Biden has the experience to guide our recovery from the pandemic and get Americans back to work. The Biden/Harris administration’s economic plan will create 7 million more jobs than Trump’s economic plan, according to Moody’s Analytics

As Sen. Harris demonstrated during the debate, not only is she qualified to be our next vice president, she and Biden have a plan to uplift and advance our communities that will bring us back better than before this pandemic. They’re committed to our students in creating equal and equitable access to public education and listening to educators when it comes to education policy.

They’ll be ready on day one to fight for us.

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