Pence and Harris will debate tonight. Here’s what to expect and how to watch
CNN & EastIdahoNews.com staff
Published at | Updated at
(CNN) — Kamala Harris and Mike Pence are scheduled to face off Wednesday night in the first and only general election vice presidential debate of 2020. The debate will begin at 7 p.m. MDT and will be streamed live on EastIdahoNews.com.
Distance and plexiglass barriers
The debate comes days after the presidential election was upended with Republican President Donald Trump‘s announcement that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for coronavirus. Trump spent three days hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center, but returned to the White House on Monday.
Pence was in frequent close contact with Trump last week, but has repeatedly tested negative.
Even before the pandemic is mentioned at Wednesday night’s debate, its presence will be obvious.
Debate organizers, in response to the spread of the coronavirus inside the White House and the fact that Pence was at an event that was seemingly the genesis of the White House spread just over a week ago, made a number of changes to their safety protocols, including putting Pence and Harris more than 12 feet apart, using plexiglass as barriers between the candidates and requiring everyone in the audience wear masks.
The coronavirus risks around the debate led some Democrats to question why the contest was even happening, particularly given Pence’s proximity to those who have recently tested positive. Jesse Schonau, Pence’s physician, said in a memo released Tuesday that the vice president does not need to quarantine because he was not a “close contact” of anyone who has tested positive as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pence has had multiple negative coronavirus tests.
As far as the debate format itself, it will be divided into nine segments of about 10 minutes each, and each candidate will have two minutes to respond to the moderator’s opening question, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates. The moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, will then use the rest of the time in the segment to facilitate a deeper discussion on the topic. There will be no opening or closing statements from Harris or Pence.
The event is being held at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Pence needs to project calm
From the frenzied debate between the President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to Trump’s COVID-19 hospitalization, it’s been a chaotic week for the Trump campaign.
Pence’s goals in Wednesday night’s debate are to project a calm that Trump was unable to signal recently, while defending the administration’s handling of the pandemic and delivering the Trump campaign’s messaging that the virus should not dominate American life.
It’s a difficult task: More than 210,000 Americans have died from the virus, small businesses across the country have been decimated and the prospect of more economic stimulus for Americans was rejected on Tuesday evening when the President urged Republicans to walk away from negotiations with Democrats, tanking the stock market.
But Pence, according to people who know him well or have debated him in the past, is one of the most skilled politicians at redirecting a question to a topic he wants to focus on.
“Mike is a good debater,” said John Gregg, an Indiana Democrat who went to law school with Pence and ran against him for governor in 2012. “On certain questions that he gets, if he doesn’t want to answer it, he is just a master at not answering it and pivoting to talking points.”
Harris faces the ghosts of policies past
Harris entered the Democratic presidential primary as a supporter of “Medicare for All,” the national health insurance plan written and championed by her competitor Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
By the time she dropped out, in December 2019, the senator from California had rowed back her support and unveiled her own plan, which called for transitioning to a government-run program over 10 years but allowing private insurers to participate.
Now she is making the case for Biden and his proposal to beef up the Affordable Care Act and create a public option on top of it.
Former GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker even says he’s been studying her style and body language, saying that when most politicians prepare for an attack line by speeding up and getting more aggressive, Harris does the opposite. That was on display when she delivered her famous line in the first presidential primary debate when she attacked Biden on the issue of busing, saying “that little girl was me.”
“Most people speed up. They get a move in, they get aggressive, the adrenaline pumps up. If you go back and look at that again, the interesting part of that debate is, and I think indicative of a good prosecutor, she slowed down. She slowed down as if she was talking to the jury, drawing them in, telling that story,” Walker said. “Boy, that was unbelievably effective. That was one of those where the whole world stopped for her.”
In the first presidential debate, Biden wouldn’t directly answer a question about whether he would support increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court. He has also not given a yes-or-no answer to whether he would support — if Democrats win control of the Senate — abolishing the filibuster.
Trump couldn’t get answers from Biden, but Pence might try to press Harris on those questions as he seeks to argue that the Biden-Harris ticket is beholden to the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, which has sought the changes.
Pence, meanwhile, could have to address Trump’s seesawing tweets Tuesday about an economic stimulus. The President took to Twitter to announce that he had ended negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a massive economic package. Then, hours later, he tweeted “True!” in response to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell arguing for more financial help from Congress.
As of Wednesday, there are 27 days until Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 3).