Harris and Pence Face Off on Foreign Policy, Iran and ISIS in Vice Presidential Debate

Kamala Harris slams Trump administration’s withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal and Mike Pence bashes Obama administration’s ISIS policies as vice presidential candidates’ discussion goes beyond domestic issues

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence listens as U.S. Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris speaks during the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence listens as U.S. Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris speaks during the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 7, 2020Credit: Morry Gash / POOL / AFP

Sen. Kamala Harris sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal during Wednesday’s Vice Presidential debate, framing the decision as a betrayal of an agreement made with U.S. allies abroad, in an attack on his administration’s foreign policy. 

“We were in the Iran nuclear deal with friends,” Harris said. Leaving the deal, she asserted, “has put us in a position where we are less safe because they are building up what might end up being a significant nuclear arsenal.”

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The debate between Harris and Vice President Mike Pence focused largely on domestic issues, particularly the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. But unlike the first presidential debate last week, there was also extensive discussion of foreign policy, including policy toward China and Russia, as well as the Middle East. 

Harris placed Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal in the context of what she said was the importance of dependable relationships in foreign policy, citing it as an example of damage to U.S. credibility done by Trump’s withdrawal from international deals. 

She noted that her running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, had told her that “foreign policy might sound complicated, but it’s about relationships … you’ve got to keep your word to your friends. You’ve got to be loyal to your friends. People who stood with you, you have to stand with them. You have to know who your adversaries are and keep them in check. But what we have seen with President Donald Trump is that he has betrayed our friends and embraced dictators around the world.” 

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, during the vice presidential debate on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, October 7, 2020.Credit: Justin Sullivan,AP

Harris derided Trump for his “unilateral approach to foreign policy, coupled with his isolationism," and said that "he pulled us out and made America less safe.” She added: “The thing that has been the strength of our nation in addition to our great military is that we keep our word, but Donald Trump doesn’t understand it because he doesn’t understand what it means to be honest.”

Pence hit back by pointing to Trump’s relationship with Israel as an example of loyalty and keeping promises.

“President Trump kept his word when he moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem,” said Pence. “When Joe Biden was vice president, he promised to do that and never did.”  

Pence slammed the Obama White House for doing little to prevent the growth and expansion of the Islamic State, whereas the Trump administration “destroyed the Caliphate.”

The parents of a young woman held captive for two years and killed by ISIS in 2015, Kayla Mueller, were Pence’s guests in the audience. Pence said that Obama and Biden hesitated too long to launch an operation to free the aid worker, and asserted that “if President Donald Trump had been president” her parents “believe Kayla would be alive today.”

Pence also pointed out that it was the Trump White House that successfully targeted and killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and struck Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani

Harris replied that the Soleimani strike had serious consequences that Trump dismissed. 

“There was a counter-strike on our troops in Iraq and they suffered serious brain injuries. And do you know what Donald Trump dismissed them as? Headaches,” Harris said, calling it part of “a pattern of Donald Trump’s, where he has referred to our men who are serving in our military as suckers and losers.”

Later in the debate, when discussing racism and white supremacy, Pence defended the president against charges of racism by referencing his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and their family.

“President Trump has Jewish grandchildren. His daughter and son-in-law are Jewish,” Pence said.

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