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"Was justice done?": A Pence-Harris debate question that showcased America's deep divisions

Moderator Susan Page of USA Today asked an identically worded question to both candidates in Wednesday night's vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City: "In the case of Breonna Taylor was justice done?"

Why it matters: The answers vividly capturedour two Americas.

"I don’t believe so," said Sen. Kamala Harris, 55, adding that she has talked with the mother of Taylor, a 26-year-old who was shot and killed by Louisville police in March when they broke into her apartment while executing a warrant.

  • In one of the night's most memorable moments, Harris said: "I'm a former career prosecutor. I know what I’m talking about. Bad cops are bad for good cops."
  • Harris described this year's racial-justice demonstrations: "I was a part of those peaceful protests. ... We are never going to condone violence. But we always must fight for the values that we hold dear."

"[O]ur heart breaks for the loss of any innocent American life, and the family of Breonna Taylor has our sympathies," said Vice President Pence, 61. "But I trust our justice system."

  • Addressing Harris, a former California attorney general, Pence said: "[I]t really is remarkable that, as a former prosecutor, you would assume that an empaneled grand jury, looking at all the evidence, got it wrong."
  • "There was no excuse for what happened to George Floyd," Pence added. "And justice will be served. But there’s also no excuse for the rioting and looting that followed."

Pence deployed one of the night's roughest lines while defending the administration's coronavirus response:

Quite frankly, when I look at [the Biden-Harris] plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE, developing a vaccine, it looks a little bit like plagiarism — which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about.

Harris smiled and shook her head.

  • "Whatever the vice president is claiming the administration has done," Harris replied, "clearly it hasn’t worked when you’re looking at over 210,000 dead bodies in our country."

What we're hearing, via Axios' Jonathan Swan: The Republican aides I’ve texted with tonight aren’t trying to argue that Pence’s performance altered the course of the race in any way.

  • They know that the president makes every news cycle about himself, thus entrenching this election as referendum on Trump — which is exactly how Biden likes it. And no amount of TV ads or normal-sounding GOP attack lines from Pence can change that.  

Go deeper: VP debate brings back normal politics

Reporting was contributed by Stef Kight, Alexi McCammond, David Nather, Hans Nichols and Alayna Treene.

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