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Your Guide to the VP Debate Between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence

Bianca Rodriguez
·7-min read

From Marie Claire

November is closer than you think, which is not only evidence of just how crazy this year has been, but also a reminder that there's a lot to expect these next couple of months. Before we head to the polls on November 3, a lot of stuff will happen. We have the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, debates on debates, and plenty of prep work for you to do (you can start by getting registered to vote and learning about your state deadlines).

The presidential and vice-presidential debates are designed to show voters the platforms of each candidate and give each side a chance to argue that their platform will be better for the country. Historically, there are numerous presidential debates and only one vice-presidential meeting, though the former hasn't been confirmed yet. Ahead, here's everything you need to know about the one-time VP event.

Where is the vice presidential debate?

The debate will be at Kingsbury Hall on President's Circle at the university Wednesday, October 7, 2020. The co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank J. Fahrenkopf, says the event will be smaller than usual. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, there won't be more than 150 to 200 people on-site.

According to the website, the university is currently looking for volunteers (primarily university students) to help as greeters, runners, and media personnel, among others.

Who is moderating the debate?

Photo credit: NBC NewsWire - Getty Images
Photo credit: NBC NewsWire - Getty Images

The CPD announced on Sept. 2 that the Washington Bureau Chief for USA TODAY will oversee the debate. It will be her first time hosting such an event.

She's covered the White House for four decades and through six presidencies and is now covering her 11th presidential campaign. "The debates are a crucial part of making our democracy work, and I am honored to participate," said Page to USA TODAY.

Just days after the announcement, it was revealed in an investigation from Politico that Page hosted a party late in 2018 for Seema Verma, who runs the Trump administration's Medicare and Medicaid programs. She reportedly paid over $4,000 from her pocket to cover catering and other reception costs.

USA Today Chrissy Terrell spokesperson said that the event was "to honor women on both sides of the aisle doing notable things," and that it was "well within the ethical standards that our journalists are expected to uphold."

There have been calls for Page to step down from the debate due to the report's findings, but as of now, she is still said to be the moderator for the event.

What COVID precautions will be taken at the debate?

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

After President Trump's coronavirus diagnosis, the CPD announced multiple changes to the vice presidential debate. At the request of the Biden-Harris campaign, Pence and Harris will be 12 feet apart instead of the previously agreed seven feet. The Biden-Harris team argued when requesting that some medical professionals recommend a greater distance of separation when spending extended periods indoors. Masks will be required, too.

The CPD has also reportedly approved using plexiglass as a barrier between the two at the debate, per Politico. This isn't the first time plexiglass will be used in a debate setting: This past weekend, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham and Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison used a plexiglass partition.

Not everyone supported the then-proposed change, Harris' team was for it, but Pence's wasn't. "If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it," said Katie Miller, a Pence spokeswoman.

It is worth noting Pence was not required to quarantine after the announcement of Trump's diagnosis. Jesse Schonau, Pence's physician, released a statement on October 2, stating the vice president was not considered a "close contact" to the president and had tested negative for the virus.

The statement read: "Under the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] (CDC), the Vice President is not considered a close contact with any individuals who have tested positive for COVID, including President Donald J. Trump. Vice President Mike Pence does not need to quarantine. Vice President Mike Pence remains in good health and is free to go about his normal activities."

How can you watch the VP debate?

The debate will start at 9 p.m. ET and will run for 90 minutes without commercial interruption. You'll be able to watch it on every major cable network such as CBS, ABC, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox, Fox News, NBC, and MSNBC. If you're a cable cutter like me and still want to watch, you'll be able to stream it for free on YouTube.

The official debate website has already indicated that tickets will be extremely hard to come by if available at all, as most of them will only be available to University of Utah students. The Commission on Presidential Debates has already indicated that they'll be working closely with the Cleveland Clinic to determine what will be safe in terms of protocol.

“We are confident that someone who is positive will not gain entry into the debate hall or into this hard perimeter that you’re standing in right now around our campus. And that’s no one,” said Alison Flynn Gaffney, the universities health care executive director for the debate, to the Deseret News.

What should you expect from the debate?

During her time on the debate stage as a presidential candidate in her own right, Harris has made a name for herself with her piercing questioning (thanks in part to her history as a prosecutor), and one of her targets was actually her current running mate Joe Biden on the subject of race. Her remarks helped her stand out in a crowded field, and audiences are expecting to see more of that during the debate.

This New York Times article goes into deep detail about what could be discussed—and more intriguingly, how the debate may play out—but particular focus has been directed towards the issues of healthcare, on which Harris' stance has changed (but so too has the administration's); Harris' long and varied experience as attorney general; and Harris' pointed questioning of Attorney General William Barr on the Senate Judiciary Committee, among others.

Harris and Pence are likely working to appeal to different voting demographics (Harris has come out in support of working class, elderly, and middle class family voters in her public appearances so far, whereas Pence appeals to conservative Christians), so it'll likely also result in highly different stances on issues facing the nation, including COVID-19, the economy, the climate crisis, racial justice, and gun control.

Since Harris is notorious for her debate skills, many key Democratic figures are looking for her to shine at the debate and really make a statement. But some people warn that we must take Harris down from the high pedestal they put her on.

"I think Kamala is suffering from too high of expectations in terms of her debate performance with Pence," said former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill on David Plouffe's podcast earlier this month. "I think we all like need to take a deep breath and quit saying, ‘I can’t wait for Kamala to debate Pence.’ It won’t be like that. It won’t be that Pence will be laying bleeding on the floor when Kamala is done. So, we’ve got to lower expectations for Kamala and keep the expectations for Biden low."

It's said Harris is prepping for the debates by practicing with former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg who's posing as Pence in mock debates, according to Bloomberg. Two people behind the scenes said to the outlet, "because of his familiarity with the vice president" since Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend when Pence was the governor of Indiana.

Feel free to check back here later—we'll keep this page updated—or keep an eye on announcements from the Commission on Presidential Debates.

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