The Mercury News

Kaine, Pence engage in fiery VP debate

Candidates repeatedly talk over each other in tense clash

- Pence By Evan Halper and Noah Bierman Kaine

FARMVILLE, Va. — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence tried during Tuesday’s vice presidenti­al debate to stanch the damage from disclosure­s that Donald Trump may not have paid federal income taxes for two decades, insisting his running mate showed business acumen when he declared a nearly $1 billion loss.

“He went through a very difficult time, but he used the tax code just as it’s supposed to be used and he used it bril-

liantly,” Pence said. “Donald Trump has created tens of thousands of jobs.”

The statement came during the beginning of a surprising­ly fiery debate between Pence and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democrat on Hillary Clinton’s ticket. The pair, debating at Longwood University, frequently interrupte­d each other and accused their opponents of dishonesty as they argued over a range of topics, including foreign policy, the economy, taxes, the federal budget, criminal justice and immigratio­n.

Pence at one point accused Kaine and Clinton of lodging “an avalanche of insults,” while Kaine accused Pence and Trump of running an “insult-driven campaign.” Moderator Elaine Quijano looked like a traffic cop for much of the evening, trying to keep the candidates from talking over each other and her.

Kaine prodded Pence repeatedly over Trump’s failure to release his full tax returns and mocked Trump for bragging during last week’s debate that not paying taxes would show that he is smart.

“So it’s smart not to pay for our military? It’s smart not to pay for our veterans?” Kaine said. “It’s smart not to pay our teachers? So I guess the rest of us who do pay for those things are stupid.”

“I can’t imagine how Gov. Pence can defend the impulse-driven, selfish, me-first style of Donald Trump,” he added.

Kaine called out Trump for demeaning Mexicans who cross the border illegally, questionin­g President Barack Obama’s birthplace and lodging a host of other insults. But he also had to answer for Clinton, who has been dogged by questions over fundraisin­g, paid speeches, and the private email server she used as secretary of state.

“There’s a reason why people question the trustworth­iness of Hillary Clinton,” Pence said, “and that’s because they’re paying attention.”

Kaine said Clinton proved her trustworth­iness by committing to helping others before she entered politics. And he raised his son’s military service to declare her fitness to lead the nation’s armed forces.

“We trust her with the most important thing in our life,” Kaine said. “The thought of Donald Trump as commander in chief scares us to death.”

But Pence was just as aggressive in attacking Clinton for failures in the economy and national security during Obama’s tenure. He accused Clinton of planning to stifle the economy with high taxes and regulation­s.

“The American people know that we need to make a change,” Pence said. “We see remarkable portions of the world ... literally spinning out of control.”

Kaine countered that Clinton helped start the process to cut a deal to halt Iran’s nuclear program and worked in the Obama administra­tion when Osama Bin Laden was killed.

The two clashed again when the discussion turned to law enforcemen­t.

Pence took aim at Clinton’s and Kaine’s assessment that the criminal justice system is beset with institutio­nal racism. “Senator, please, enough of this seizing every opportunit­y to demean law enforcemen­t broadly” by charging “implicit bias.”

Kaine expressed incredulit­y at Pence’s comment. “Those who say we should not be able to bring up or talk about bias in the system will never be able to solve the problem,” he said. “I can’t believe you are defending the position there is no bias.”

Kaine then pivoted into an attack on Trump, reciting the GOP nominee’s demeaning comments about Mexican immigrants, women and war hero John McCain, the Arizona senator. “If you want to have a society where people are respected and respect laws, you can’t have somebody at the top who demeans everybody,” he said.

When the debate turned to immigratio­n, Kaine accused Pence and Trump of planning for a “deportatio­n force” that will remove 16 million people from the country.

“They want to go house to house, school to school, business to business and kick out 16 million people,” Kaine said.

Pence called the descriptio­n “nonsense.” He said his and Trump’s plan to strengthen the borders and aggressive­ly enforce existing laws contrasts with the Democratic plan, which he labeled amnesty.

“They have a plan for open borders,” Pence said. “They call it comprehens­ive immigratio­n reform on Capitol Hill. We all know the routine. It’s amnesty.”

Trump’s missteps on the debate stage proved costly to his campaign at a time he had come close to catching Clinton in the polls. She now leads by an average of nearly 4 percentage points nationally, according to Real Clear Politics. Clinton’s position in battlegrou­nd states also has improved, with a 6-percentage-point lead in New Hampshire and a cushion of 4 percentage points in Pennsylvan­ia.

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