The first debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is set to begin at 9:00 Eastern on Wednesday evening in Salt Lake City, where the two are expected to face off on issues including President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, criminal justice reform, and their ability to lead in the event the president is incapacitated.
The event comes after a clash between the candidates over the use of plexiglass dividers. Harris initially requested a divider, while Pence initially declined to use one. But his campaign reversed its position on Tuesday evening, saying the vice president would consent to it. The candidates will also be placed 12 feet apart, twice as far as social-distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
Trump announced late Thursday evening that he had contracted the coronavirus, just two days after his first debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The White House has refused to say when the president received his first positive diagnosis, leaving open the possibility that it was prior to the debate.
The ability of the candidates to lead in the event they become president is expected to take on particular significance during this year’s debate. Pence, 61, and Harris, 55, both play supporting roles to running mates who have faced questions about their health. Advisers to Biden — who turns 78 in November and will turn 82 in 2024 — suggested early in his campaign that he would not be likely to seek a second term in office, though Biden himself has not made that pledge.
Unless the president and Biden agree on the terms for two debates scheduled to take place later in October, the debate between Pence and Harris will be the last one before to the election. After a raucous first debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that it would institute measures to prevent candidates from interrupting each other at future events. Trump’s campaign objected to that plan early on Thursday, before Trump’s announcement that he had been infected by the coronavirus upended the news cycle.
Those debates had been scheduled to take place at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on October 15 and at Belmont University in Nashville on October 22.
Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today, will moderate Wednesday’s event. Watch live above via CSPAN.
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