Pence hails terrorist eliminations, Harris increases Russian bonuses in Veep debate

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The first and only Vice Presidential Debate took place the same day the United States announced the indictment of two notorious British ISIS detainees – and Vice President Mike Pence took advantage of the moment, hailing the victories of the Trump administration against terrorism.

After a chaotic and combative presidential debate that saw little substantive political discussion, the vice-presidential debate, which took place on Wednesday evening, represented a kind of return to normalcy. And while much of the discussion focused on the response and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, candidates also turned to national security and defense.

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Democratic running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, challenged the administration over damaged alliances and close ties with Russia, while Pence focused on bad actors eliminated over the past four years, including ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died in the October 2019 raid, and Iranian force commander Quds Qasem Soleimani, killed in a US drone strike in January.

Pence quoted Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker held hostage by ISIS in 2013 and killed by the terrorist group in 2015, noting that her parents were present for the debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. .

“Today two of the ISIS killers responsible for Kayla Mueller’s murder were brought to justice in the United States,” Pence said, referring to the two members of the British militant group known as “The Beatles “indicted Wednesday. The other two members had already been killed.

“The reality is that when Joe Biden was vice president we had the opportunity to save Kayla Mueller. It breaks my heart to think about it, but the military walked into the Oval Office, presented a plan… but when Joe Biden was vice president they hesitated for a month, and when the military finally came in it was clear she had been moved two days earlier, “Pence said. “And her family say with a heart that breaks the heart of every American, that if President Donald Trump had been president, they think Kayla would be alive today.”

Harris spoke directly to Mueller’s parents, saying on behalf of herself and presidential candidate Joe Biden that “what happened to her is awful and it should never have happened.”

But she then turned to the deadly strike on Soleimani, after which the United States briefly appeared on the brink of war with Iran. Hostilities abated following an Iranian counterattack on two Iraqi bases housing US troops.

“[American service members suffered serious brain injuries, and do you know what Donald Trump dismissed them as? Headaches,” Harris said.

She cited a recent explosive story in The Atlantic that reported Trump had called troops “losers” and “suckers,” and referred to his public remarks prior to getting elected about the late Sen. John McCain in which he questioned McCain’s heroism because he had been captured by the enemy.

“Donald Trump, who went to Arlington cemetery and stood above the graves of our fallen heroes and said, ‘What’s in it for them?'” Harris said. “Because of course, he only thinks about what’s in it for him.”

She then referred to reporting from earlier this year that Russia had placed bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. U.S. military commanders have said intelligence reports on this possibility were not definite, but acknowledged they were worrisome.

“Donald Trump had talked at least six times to Vladimir Putin and never brought up the subject,” Harris said. “Joe Biden would never do that. … Joe Biden would hold Russia to account for any threat to our national security or to our troops who are sacrificing their lives for the sake of our democracy and our safety.”

Though Pence and Harris throughout the night tended to talk past each other and often did not directly address points raised by their opponent, Pence did call reports of Trump disparaging service members “absurd.”

“My son [Michael Pence] is a captain in the United States Marine Corps, “he said.” My son-in-law [Lt. Henry Bond] is deployed in the United States Navy. I can assure all of you that with the sons and daughters who serve in our military, President Donald Trump not only respects but reveres all who serve in our military and any suggestion to the contrary is ludicrous. “

Harris, who has no direct military ties but served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has perhaps delivered his strongest blows on national security issues by challenging the administration over its relations with its allies and his opponents. She accused Trump of choosing to take Russian President Vladimir Putin at his word rather than his own FBI director on issues related to alleged Russian interference in the US election. She cited Trump’s abandonment of the controversial nuclear deal with Iran, saying the nation is less secure because it abandoned its allies in the deal.

“What we have seen with Donald Trump is that he betrayed our friends and embraced dictators around the world,” she said. “… The thing that has always been our nation’s strength besides our great army has been that we keep our word, but Donald Trump doesn’t understand that because he doesn’t understand what it means to be honest.”

It is not clear whether there will be a next debate; the Presidential Debates Commission announced Thursday that the next showdown between Trump and Biden will be virtual, prompting Trump to respond that he will not be participating in a virtual debate.

– Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

Related: First presidential debate heavy on insults, light on veterans and military issues

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