FARMVILLE, Va. (AP) — Democrat Tim Kaine aggressively challenged Republican Mike Pence over a long list of Donald Trump’s controversial positions and statements Tuesday night, drawing a vigorous defense of Trump’s tax history. But Pence sidestepped criticism of Trump’s demeaning comments about women, his public doubting of Barack Obama’s citizenship and broader questions about temperament.
Indiana Gov. Pence and Virginia Sen. Kaine, who have received little attention in a race focused on Trump and Hillary Clinton, faced off for 90 minutes in the only vice presidential debate of the campaign.
With the close White House race perhaps starting to tip in Clinton’s favor, Pence outlined a detailed conservative agenda on tax policy, entitlements and immigration. He was markedly more prepared and more detailed in his answers than Trump was in last week’s first presidential debate. He was also more consistent in painting the Democratic ticket as career politicians unwilling to shake up Washington.
“Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want more of the same,” Pence said. He also repeatedly accused the Democrats of running an “insult-driven” campaign — an ironic attack line given that Trump has leveled repeated insults against Clinton and his former rivals in the Republican primaries.
There was a striking difference in the two men’s manner. Kaine, Clinton’s usually easygoing No. 2, went on the attack from the start, repeatedly interrupting and challenging Pence. Pence, an equally genial politician, was unflappable.
Kaine pressured Pence to answer for some of his running mate’s provocative statements, using Trump’s own words such as dismissing some women as pigs or slobs. He also challenged Pence on Trump’s decision to break with decades of campaign tradition by not releasing his taxes.
“Donald Trump must give the American public his tax returns to show he’s prepared to be president, and he’s breaking his promise,” Kaine said.
Asked about reports that Trump might not have paid any federal taxes for years, Pence said his running mate “used the tax code just the way it’s supposed to be used, and he did it brilliantly.”
Records obtained by The New York Times showed Trump suffered more than $900 million in losses in 1995 that could have allowed him to avoid paying federal income taxes for as many as 18 years.
Kaine, too, defended his running mate’s weaknesses, chiefly the public’s questions about her honesty and trustworthiness. He said that while Trump was “selfish,” Clinton had devoted her career to helping children and families.
Social issues were a bigger part of the conversation than in the first presidential showdown, reflecting both candidates’ religious faith.
Kaine, a Catholic who personally opposes abortion but has consistently voted in favor of abortion rights, said of the Republican nominee, “Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?” He also pointed to Trump’s assertion that women should face some kind of “punishment” for abortion, a comment Trump later walked back.
Pence stressed his opposition to abortion and said he was “proud to be standing with Donald Trump” on the issue.
On national security, Kaine revived Trump’s frequently flattering comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He loves dictators,” Kaine said. “He’s got like a personal Mount Rushmore: Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein.”
Pence tried to flip the tables by accusing Kaine’s running mate of stoking Russia’s belligerence.
“The weak and feckless foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has awaked an aggression in Russia that first appeared in Russia a few years ago,” Pence said. “All the while, all we do is fold our arms and say we’re not having talks anymore.”
On criminal justice, Kaine argued that Trump’s embrace of “stop and frisk” style policing was a mistake. Pence argued that Clinton has used police shootings to argue that there is “implicit bias” in police departments, and he said the Democrats should “stop seizing on these moments of tragedy.”
Kaine quickly shot back: “I can’t believe you are defending the position that there’s no bias.”
Tuesday’s contest was the only time Kaine and Pence will face off in this election, while Trump and Clinton tangle in three contests.
Clinton was widely viewed as the winner of her opening debate with Trump, rattling the real estate mogul with jabs about his business record and demeaning statements about women, and responding to his attacks with calm rejoinders. New public opinion polls have showed her improving her standing in nearly all battleground states.
At least some of Clinton’s bounce is likely attributable to Trump’s conduct coming out of the debate. He redoubled his criticism of a beauty queen and her weight, one of the topics Clinton raised in the debate, and went on a pre-dawn Twitter tirade trying to disparage the former Miss Universe.
While Trump has five weeks until Election Day to regain his footing, early voting is already underway in some states.
The vice presidential showdown at Virginia’s Longwood University was moderated by Elaine Quijano of CBS News. While last week’s first presidential debate was watched by a record-setting television audience of 84 million people, Tuesday’s contest was expected to have smaller viewership given Pence and Kaine’s lower profiles in the campaign.
Not all the claims in the vice presidential debate stand up to scrutiny. A look at some of them and how they compare with the facts:
REPUBLICAN MIKE PENCE: “The fact that under this past administration, we’ve almost doubled the national debt is atrocious…. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want more of the same.”
THE FACTS: As a share of the total U.S. economy, the national debt has gone up 35 percent; not a doubling.
Still, the debt has ballooned to $19.6 trillion. This largely reflected efforts by the Obama administration to stop the Great Recession.
Would Clinton similarly increase the debt? Not according to an analysis by the independent Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The Clinton plan with its tax increases would increase the gross debt — both privately and publicly held— by $450 billion over 10 years. Mind you, that is on top of an $8.8 trillion increase already projected by the government under current law.
As for Donald Trump, the committee says his tax-cut-heavy plan would increase the gross debt by $4.3 trillion —nearly 10 times more than Clinton’s plan would do.
DEMOCRAT TIM KAINE on immigration: “Our plan is like Ronald Reagan in 1986.”
THE FACTS: There are similarities for sure but Clinton’s proposal would have far broader impact. The estimated population of immigrants living in the United States illegally is now roughly 11 million. In 1986, the so-called Reagan amnesty bill legalized the immigration status of about 3 million people.
There are also some notable differences between the law signed by President Reagan and Clinton’s proposal. The Reagan law included a provision that made it illegal for businesses to hire workers who don’t have the legal right to work in the United States. Enforcement of that provision has never fully materialized. Clinton’s plan as laid out in her campaign website does not address workforce enforcement.
DEMOCRAT TIM KAINE, on fighting the Islamic State: “Donald Trump doesn’t have a plan.”
THE FACTS: Clinton also doesn’t have a plan that is materially different than what President Barack Obama is already doing.
She’s described a three-part strategy that involves crushing IS “on its home turf” in the Middle East, disrupting its infrastructure on the ground and online, and protecting America and its allies. All are current elements of the Obama administration’s strategy, so it’s not clear what would change or if she would accelerate any portions of it.
It’s also the case that Trump has not laid out a clear plan, though he claims to have a “secret” one that he won’t detail.
PENCE: “The Trump Foundation is a private family foundation. They give virtually every cent in the Trump Foundation to charitable causes. Less than 10 cents on the dollar in the Clinton Foundation has gone to charitable causes.”
THE FACTS: Rather than send money to other charities, the Clinton Foundation tends to spend its money on its own charitable programs. Pence’s claim ignores these internal initiatives, overlooking the Clinton Foundation’s work on African farming, climate change and AIDS treatment. Many non-profits spend the bulk of their charitable money on their own efforts rather than on outside charitable groups.
As for Trump’s foundation, multiple questions have been raised about its namesake’s generosity.
Money has been used to buy paintings of Trump and a signed football helmet that belonged to Tim Tebow. Money from the foundation has also helped settled legal cases against Trump’s for-profit businesses, according to The Washington Post. Trump even paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year after it was uncovered that the foundation broke tax laws by giving a political contribution to Florida’s attorney general.
PENCE, calling Clinton the “architect of the Obama administration’s foreign policy,” says the crisis in Syria was the result of a “failed and weak foreign policy that Hillary Clinton helped lead.”
THE FACTS: Clinton, as secretary of state, actually pushed for increased U.S. intervention after Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against rebels. But Obama is the commander in chief and nothing has swayed him thus far. Whatever her failings might be on foreign policy, it’s a stretch to accuse her of helping to lead a weak policy on Syria.
PENCE: “We’ve seen an economy stifled by more taxes, more regulation, a war on coal.”
THE FACTS: The coal industry’s woes don’t come solely from onerous federal regulations. Pence omitted the effects of steep competition from cheap natural gas.
A string of major coal companies have filed for bankruptcy in recent years, including Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources and Peabody Energy. Layoffs and cutbacks have spread economic suffering through coal country in the Appalachians and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. By contrast, these are boom times for natural gas extraction, mostly due to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Still, the Obama administration has implemented rules that aren’t making the coal industry’s life any easier. Obama last year imposed a rule requiring coal-fired power plants to cut their carbon emissions as part of his effort to combat climate change. The rule has been suspended pending a legal challenge. Obama also has halted new coal leases on federal lands until it completes a comprehensive review.
PENCE, saying he’s proud that “the state of Indiana has balanced budgets.”
THE FACTS: True, but that’s not exactly to his credit as governor of Indiana. A balanced budget is required by law, as it is in every state except Vermont.
Pace reported from Washington. AP writer Jonathan Lemire in Prescott Valley, Arizona, contributed to this report.
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC and Thomas Beaumont at http://twitter.com/TomBeaumont
Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Deb Riechmann, Matthew Daly and Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report.