'Thank you, Mr. Vice President': Another moderator struggles to control the conversation

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Moderator USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page takes her seat for the vice presidential debate, Oct. 7, 2020. | Justin Sullivan/Pool via AP

2020 Debates

USA Today’s Susan Page allowed Kamala Harris and Mike Pence to dodge questions and frequently interrupt each other.

Just a week after Fox News’ Chris Wallace got roasted for ceding control to Donald Trump and Joe Biden on the debate stage, USA Today’s Susan Page fared little better with the vice-presidential contenders.

Page repeatedly allowed Kamala Harris and Mike Pence to interrupt each other and her throughout the debate, letting them spar instead of answering the questions. She declined to pose follow-up questions, allowing them to avoid substantive inquiries.

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She also drew criticism for her deference to Pence in particular, as he frequently interjected during Harris’ answers. She repeatedly tried and failed to get Pence to stop talking, saying variations of “thank you” or “thank you, Mr. Vice President” 22 times over the course of the evening, to no effect.

By the end of the debate, some commentators proclaimed that Page made an even worse debate moderator than Wallace, who was criticized for letting the first presidential debate go off the rails.

Throughout the evening, Pence repeatedly exceeded the time limits set by the debate commissioners and interrupted Harris, forcing Page to interject — mostly unsuccessfully.

“Your campaign agreed to rules for tonight’s debate with the Commission on Presidential Debates. I’m here to enforce them,” Page said at one point to Pence.

But Page appeared deferential to Pence, calling him “Mr. Vice President.” Meanwhile, at one point she used Harris’ first name, addressing Biden’s running mate as “Kamala Harris,” rather than “Senator Harris,” before apologizing.

“That’s fine, I’m Kamala,” Harris responded.

At times, Harris appeared to be doing the moderator’s job, saying “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”

But when Harris interrupted Pence, Page admonished her.

“Thank you, Senator Harris,” Page said at one point. “Let’s give Vice President Pence a chance to respond.”

Harris pushed back at another point, saying “He interrupted me, and I’d like to just finish, please.”

The California senator also insisted on gaining back her time on multiple occasions.

“He attacked my record. I would like an opportunity to respond,” Harris said, after which Page relented, allowing Harris 30 seconds “because we’re running out of time.”

Page neglected to ask follow-up questions on a number of topics, allowing both candidates to easily avoid answering. Harris and Pence declined to give straight answers to a number of questions, including about their support for packing the Supreme Court and Trump’s health care plan for Americans with preexisting conditions.

Pundits took to Twitter to criticize Page’s performance during the debate, particularly for seeming to treat Pence with more deference than Harris.

“If Susan Page is going to let Pence talk over her for a minute each time, she can’t then be a stickler for time with Harris. Come on now,” tweeted Tommy Vietor, host of Pod Save America and a former spokesperson for former President Barack Obama.

“UPDATE: Susan Page is now taking a power nap,” tweeted conservative commentator Michelle Malkin.

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