SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (NEXSTAR) — When Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic challenger, California Sen. Kamala Harris, step on the stage in primetime tonight they’ll be joined by a vice presidential debate “first” amid the coronavirus pandemic: plexiglass barriers.
Pence and Harris will appear on stage exactly 12.25 feet (3.7 meters) apart and separated by the barriers for safety purposes.
Pence’s team objected to Harris’ request for plexiglass, arguing it was medically unnecessary. But the Commission on Presidential Debates had already agreed to the barriers. Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said the vice president would be there because it’s “too important for the American people.”
Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for Harris, said the senator “will be at the debate, respecting the protections that the Cleveland Clinic has put in place to promote safety for all concerned.” The Cleveland Clinic serves as a health adviser to the commission.
The vice president last week was with President Donald Trump and others who have since tested positive, and Pence has faced questions about whether he should be at the debate at all. He has repeatedly tested negative for the virus, and his staff and doctors insist he does not need to quarantine under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The CDC defines risky “close contact” as being within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before the onset of symptoms or a positive test.
Wednesday’s debate will be broadcast on all major networks, WGN America and streamed on our website beginning at 9 p.m. ET. The debate is unlikely to be a repeat of the chaotic debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden last week.
Pence is eager to focus on what he and Trump see as the Democrats’ too-liberal policies, but it may be difficult to shift the conversation away from the Republican administration’s uneven handling of the pandemic. Pence serves as chair of the president’s coronavirus task force, which has failed to implement a comprehensive national strategy even as Trump himself recovers from the disease and the national death toll surges past 210,000 with no end in sight.
The vice president is a 61-year-old former Indiana governor and ex-radio host, an evangelical Christian known for his folksy charm and unwavering loyalty to Trump.
Harris is a 55-year-old California senator, the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. She is also a former prosecutor whose pointed questioning of Trump’s appointees and court nominees helped make her a Democratic star.
She will make history as the first Black woman to appear in a vice presidential debate. Democrats hope the historic nature of her candidacy will help energize key groups of likely Democratic voters — African Americans and young people, in particular — who have shown less excitement for Biden.
It’s unclear how aggressive the candidates will be with each other.
What is clear: plexiglass. And tonight’s barriers will undoubtedly be one of the many storylines that people will be talking about on Thursday morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.