US vice presidential candidates representing the Republican and Democratic camps have engaged in a heated televised debate, marked with a series of sharp verbal exchanges. During their lone campaign debate on Tuesday, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Indiana Governor Mike Pence clashed over a range of controversial issues including foreign policy, economy and immigration.
Commenting on Syria, Pence, the running mate of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, called for US attacks against the Syrian government if Russia continues to support its campaign to retake the strategic city of Aleppo.
“If Russia chooses to be involved and continue… in this barbaric attack on Aleppo, the United States of America should use military force to strike the targets of the Assad regime,” Pence said.
His remarks came as tensions have increased between Russia and the United States over Syria, with Washington saying it has suspended all talks with Moscow in this regard, and the Kremlin blaming the White House for not having a clear position.
“I can’t imagine how Governor Pence can defend the insult-driven, selfish, me-first style of Donald Trump,” Kaine said.
Kaine tried to frighten voters away from Trump by mentioning a remark from former Republican president Ronald Reagan that maniacs could trigger a catastrophic event with a nuclear weapon.
“I think that’s who Governor Pence’s running mate is,” Kaine said.
Pence, in response, said, “Senator, senator, that was even beneath you and Hillary Clinton and that’s pretty low.”
The discussion took a sour turn when the issue of Trump’s tax records was raised. Kaine pointed to the fact that Trump has refused to release his tax records, unlike all other US presidential nominees in modern history.
A report by The New York Times revealed that Trump had reported a $916 million loss in 1995 which may have enabled him to avoid paying federal income taxes for 18 years.
“Governor Pence had to give Donald Trump his tax returns to show he is qualified to be vice president. Donald Trump has to give his tax returns to show he is qualified to be president,” Kaine said.
Pence shot back, saying that Trump, as a New York real estate developer, had created innumerable jobs, noting that the business mogul used US tax laws and did nothing illegal.
Kaine also accused Trump of mistaking “leadership for dictatorship” by supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader,” Trump said of Putin last month.
Kaine said that “Donald Trump, again and again, has praised Vladimir Putin, and it’s clear that he has business dealings with Russian oligarchs who are related to Putin.”
Pence denied the accusations as “absolutely inaccurate,” saying Putin would respect Trump because of his strength. “The small and bullying leader of Russia has been stronger on the world stage than this administration – that’s stating painful facts.”
He said that Trump’s stance on Russia was not an endorsement of Putin, but rather “an indictment of the weak and feckless leadership of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”
The Republican governor further blamed the Russian military moves in Syria and Ukraine on Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.
“The situation we’re watching hour by hour in Syria today is the result of the weak foreign policy that Hillary Clinton helped lead in this administration and create,” Pence said, pointing to “the newly emboldened aggression of Russia… in Ukraine.”
He also said, “The Clinton Foundation accepted foreign donations while she was secretary of state … She kept that pay-to-play process in.”
Kaine then drew attention to Trump’s controversial remarks about African Americans, Mexicans and President Barack Obama.
“Donald Trump always puts himself first,” he said, noting when Trump began his presidential campaign last year he called “Mexicans rapists and criminals” and propagated the “outrageous lie” that Obama had not been born in the US.
The debate comes at a time when new national polls indicate that Clinton is having a comfortable lead over Trump in the race for the White House.
According to NBC News/SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll released on Tuesday, Clinton holds a 6-point lead over Trump, 46 percent to 40 percent.