Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif) will face off Wednesday night in Utah in the only vice presidential debate of the 2020 election.
The debate will look different, thanks to plastic barriers that have been installed between the candidates to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus. The candidates will also be seated at separate tables a little more than 12 feet apart, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Both Harris and Pence announced negative COVID-19 test results Tuesday. Some critics have called on Pence to self-quarantine due to his proximity to White House staffers who have contacted the virus, including President Donald Trump. But White House physician Jesse Taylor Schonau said in a statement that Pence didn’t have close contact with anyone who tested positive this week and “has remained healthy, without any COVID-19 symptoms.”
After Trump family members refused to wear masks while sitting in the audience of the first presidential debate last week (earning a strong rebuke by the debate’s moderator, Fox New anchor Chris Wallace), the commission said it will remove anyone who flouts the mask requirement Wednesday.
“You have to have a mask to get in this hall,” Frank Fahrenkopf, the cochair of the Commission on President Debates, said on CNN Wednesday morning. “If you get in the hall and take the mask off, you will be approached and asked to put the mask back on. If you don’t put the mask back on, you’ll be removed from the premises.”
The debate itself, which is scheduled to last 90 minutes, will be divided into nine different topics, each lasting about 10 minutes. Unlike in the first presidential debate, moderator Susan Page — the longtime Washington bureau chief for USA Today — hasn’t released the topics ahead of time.
The vice presidential debate will air commercial-free on all major broadcast networks and cable news channels to an expected TV audience of 40 to 45 million people (Pence’s 2016 debate against Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine drew a disappointing TV audience of 37.2 million people).
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the debate:
The vice presidential debate between Harris and Pence is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern and last an hour and a half.
The debate will air live on all major broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS) and cable news networks (C-Span, CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business, Fox News). It will also be available to stream on a host of so-called “skinny” cable bundles, such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, AT&T Now, and FuboTV.
You can also stream the debate right here, courtesy of PBS:
Moderating the vice presidential debate is Susan Page, the longtime Washington bureau chief for USA Today and a cable news fixture probably best known for her regular appearances on shows like NBC’s Meet the Press and PBS’s Washington Week.
Page, 69, is the first print journalist selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates since then-Chicago Sun-Times editor James Hoge moderated the 1976 debate between Walter Mondale and Bob Dole, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Page said last week’s chaotic first presidential debate between Trump and Biden, which featured at least 128 interruptions by the president, inspired her to keep prepping for tonight’s faceoff.
“It didn’t change anything, but it kind of reinforced the idea that this is an event for which you have to be very, very prepared,” Page told (who else?) USA Today.
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Here are some recent stories about the 2020 election from The Philadelphia Inquirer:
The Trump and Biden campaigns have agreed to a total of three debates during the 2020 election. Two remain on the schedule, pending Trump’s health and whether he remains an infection risk after contracting COVID-19.
“I think if he still has COVID, we shouldn’t have a debate," Biden told reporters Tuesday night, noting his decision would be guided by doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, which is advising the commission. Trump said on Twitter Tuesday he planned on participating in the remaining debates.
Fahrenkopf said planning is underway for the final two presidential debates, but both events will depend on the president’s health status as he recovers from coronavirus.
“It’s going to depend on what the doctor’s say about [Trump’s] health,” Fahrenkopf said. “We’re concerned about our staff … we have a crew of about 65 people who work on these things. So it’s going to depend on what the medical evidence is and the advice we get on whether or not it’s safe to go forward.”
If they take place, the debates are: