Harris, Pence debate COVID-19 plan as Trump’s response becomes central point of contention

SALT LAKE CITY – Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris are facing off

SALT LAKE CITY – Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris are facing off during the only vice presidential debate of this election. Refresh this page for the latest. 

Different candidates, different tone

Minutes into the presidential debate last month it was clear President Donald Trump came to the stage with a plan to aggressively confront Democrat Joe Biden.

It was equally clear just minutes into Wednesday’s vice presidential debate that both campaigns had reassessed their approach after that confrontation. Pence remained silent as Harris ripped into the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus.

“This administration has forfeited their right to reelection,” she said.

Harris was silent as Pence defended the high U.S. death toll, even as Pence took a shot at the former vice president over past scandals involving plagiarism.  

“The reality is when you look at the Biden plan,” Pence says, “it looks a little like plagiarism.”

That, Pence said, is “something that Joe Bien knows a little bit about.”

During their first discussion period, both Harris and Pence quickly shot down interruptions from their opponents. 

“I’m speaking,” Harris asserted as Pence tried to jump in. 

The Sept. 29 presidential debate was widely panned after it quickly went off the rails as both candidates hurled insults at each other and Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden, forcing moderator Chris Wallace to press the president to allow Biden to speak.

In a clear recognition of the earlier debate, moderator Susan Page of USA TODAY offered a warning to the candidates at the start.

“We want a debate that is lively but America also deserves a debate that is civil,” she said.

John Fritze

And they’re off

The first and only vice presidential debate of the 2020 election is underway.

Pence and Harris are facing off in Salt Lake City, Utah, at a critical moment in the race, as President Donald Trump is battling COVID-19, talks over a stimulus to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic has stalled (again) and several battleground polls show Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a narrow but growing lead.

The two candidates will fight it out for 90 minutes over the virus, the economy, health care and other issues. Trump’s approach to the presidency might come up, too.

— John Fritze

Donald Trump campaign event Monday in Pittsburgh? Campaign explores possibility

As Mike Pence and Kamala Harris debate, President Donald Trump’s aides are working to satisfy his desire to get back out on the campaign trail as soon as possible – perhaps early next week.

The campaign is exploring the prospect of an event on Monday in Pittsburgh, an aide said. The aide did not elaborate, saying only it would be an “event” and not a “rally” for the COVID-stricken president.

Trump, who is still recovering from the virus, also wants to make the debate with Joe Biden in Miami, scheduled for a week from Thursday.

It’s uncertain whether Trump will be able to make either campaign stop.

David Jackson

You’re on your own, debate attendees

Getting a seat in the audience for a national debate is usually a hot ticket.

This year, as for many events taking place during the pandemic, there’s a big caveat in the fine print.

The Commission on Presidential Debates and the host site, the University of Utah, want ticket holders to know that when it comes to coronavirus, they’re on their own. 

“The ticket holder relieves the CPD and the event site host of any and all liability of any kind and character….in the event of fire, natural disaster…injury or sickness (including COVID-19),” the ticket advises in red letters.

John Fritze

Debate guests assemble

Guests who won the lottery for tickets to the vice presidential debate wore salmon-colored surgical masks issued by the host University of Utah.

Michelle Pedersen, 44, who is studying opera performance and who has performed on the stage where the candidates will appear, said she was excited about the experience.

“It will be incredibly memorable because we have a female, who is going to be fabulous, up there tonight,” Pedersen said.

Juliette Ainsworth, 40, from France, voiced some concern about the future because of COVID-19, but not health cares for the debate.

“I’m worried for the future but not for the debate tonight,” Ainsworth said. “I think everybody has been taken care of.”

Justin Ravago, 19, an undergraduate in business economics from Boise, Idaho, said he was looking forward to a more proper debate than the presidential candidates held last week.

“I want to hear what they have to say rather than a crossfire of words,” Ravago said.

Bart Jansen

Backers of both sides make their case

The official protest area outside the security perimeter of the vice presidential debate seemed to be dominated not by supporters of either Mike Pence or Kamala Harris but by demonstrators upset about Turkey.

Still, there were enough people there for the presidential politics that some heated debates ensued.

“Make America what it was before Trump,” a Joe Biden supporter yelled back at a group of Donald Trump backers.

The Trump supporters booed as a truck drove by, blaming Pence, as chair of the administration’s coronavirus task force, for the number of people dying from COVID-19.

Chris Quinones, 52, of Park City, Utah, said she came to the campus to show her support for the president because she’s for “law and order.”

“We don’t want to see our country look like New York City,” she said.

Quinones, who wore an Army face mask and a blue Trump hat, said she voted for Hillary Clinton four years ago because, “I didn’t know any better.”

Quinones said her eyes were opened during the impeachment of the president. She felt that Trump’s actions were being taken out of context.

“I did a 180,” she said of her support for Trump.

Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City

University of Utah students will attend the debate

The University of Utah held a ticket lottery for students, with 60 lucky winners allocated a seat in the hall.

“In order not to detract from the live televised event for the many millions of people watching the broadcast, live audience members shall refrain from expressing approval or disapproval of events on stage as the debate unfolds,” the tickets state.

Kingsbury Hall, the venue for tonight’s vice presidential debate, is the performing arts center on the University of Utah campus and opened in 1930. The debate seal — an eagle with the legend “The Union and the Constitution forever” — hangs from the ceiling.

The ticket also says members of the audience will not hold the Commission on Presidential Debates or the event host liable for any sickness including COVID-19.

Bart Jansen

The view from across the street

Sophomores Cooper McGee and Jake Larsen sat in lawn chairs on the ledge outside the second-story windows of their student rental house, taking in the vice presidential spectacle across the street at the University of Utah.

“I figured we’d be missing out if we didn’t,” McGee, a 20-year-old from Boise, Idaho, who is studying business management at the university and had just finished an online class.

The Biden Harris 2020 signs in their yard made clear which side they’re supporting in the debate.

“I really don’t feel like America is headed in the right direction under Trump,” McGee said. “If I were not speaking out, then I’m not doing my part.”

Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City

Pence concedes on plexiglass

The spat over plexiglass is over – and the plexiglass won.

After Vice President Mike Pence requested plexiglass not be placed on his side of the vice presidential debate stage — arguing it wasn’t necessary to protect the spread of COVID-19 — the Pence team conceded late Tuesday.

Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., a co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told the New York Times that Pence’s staff agreed to accept the placement of the plexiglass dividers.

Pence and Harris will sit 12 feet and 3 inches from each other with tables in front of them. Plexiglass will be to each of their sides, photos of the debate stage show.

The Commission on Presidential Debates made the plexiglass part of new safety guidelines installed after President Donald Trump and several Republican allies tested positive for COVID-19 just days following last week’s first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio.

But Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, objected, saying that it wasn’t needed because of other safety accommodations including daily testing and the extended separation between the candidates on stage.

“If she wants it, she’s more than welcome to surround herself with plexiglass if that makes her feel more comfortable,” Short told The Washington Post on Tuesday before later conceding.

Joey Garrison

Who says debates can’t be fun?

Debate Bingo
Debate Bingo

Coronavirus. Bible. Systemic Racism. Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Those are some of the words that could win a Bingo during the vice presidential debate.

Customized “Debate Bingo” cards are scattered along the tables in the media filing hall at the University of Utah.

There’s even a Bingo stamping device (which this reporter initially thought was hand sanitizer) to stamp the cards as keywords rush by Mental fitness. Electoral College. Masks. Voter Fraud.


Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City

How to watch, what to watch in Harris-Pence matchup

Pence and Harris will meet Wednesday for their only debate. The 90-minute event begins at 9 p.m. ET and won’t be hard to find: It’ll be broadcast on every major network. Viewers streaming on USATODAY.com will have the added benefit of real-time fact-checking and political context. 

What to watch for? To begin with, the debate comes as the nation has watched President Donald Trump fight his own case of COVID-19, and a steady stream of White House officials also test positive. That issue, and the issue of how the White House has responded, is guaranteed to be front and center. 

There are other top themes as well. Both candidates will try to sell themselves as a credible replacement for whoever becomes the president in an election in which both candidates are in their mid-70s (Trump is 74 and Biden is 77). That dynamic in particular makes this vice presidential debate potentially more interesting than those that have come before it. 

Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City, and John Fritze

Republican attorneys general attack Harris

Republican attorneys general slammed Kamala Harris ahead of Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate, accusing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate of spewing “dangerous rhetoric” and showing “absolute disregard for the rule of law.”

Attorneys general from Louisiana, Utah and Arkansas went after Harris’ record as California’s attorney general and as a U.S. senator, specifically citing her stance on immigration, energy, gun control, policing and other issues. The criticism could foreshadow Vice President Mike Pence’s line of attack against Harris during the debate at the University of Utah.

“Kamala Harris is dangerous and divisive,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said during a news conference in Salt Lake City. “She had no business being the attorney general of California with her disregard for the rule of law. She has no business being a U.S. senator. And Kamala Harris certainly has no business being the vice president of the United States.”

Harris, who has served as California’s junior Democratic senator since 2017, was the state’s attorney general for six years before entering Congress. Republicans have heavily scrutinized her record as attorney general, arguing that it provides some insight to the kind of policies she would pursue if she and Biden are elected in November.

“We do not aspire the United States to be California,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association. “However, if we elect a Biden-Harris ticket, that’s exactly what the American people are going to get.”

Michael Collins, Salt Lake City

Vice President Mike Pence will face Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at the vice presidential debate.
Vice President Mike Pence will face Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at the vice presidential debate.

Campaign: Harris’ goal is not to ‘eviscerate’ Pence

Many Biden campaign supporters are hoping to see Sen. Kamala Harris take on Vice President Mike Pence the way the former prosecutor went after Brett Kavanaugh, Jeff Sessions and others who have testified before the Senate committees on which she serves. (In fact, that was the first remark this reporter heard from her taxi driver after arriving in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.)

Harris’ tough debating reputation was also cemented by her attack on Joe Biden’s past opposition to busing during the Democratic presidential debates last year.

But Harris isn’t coming to the vice presidential debate stage “to eviscerate” Pence, said Symone Sanders, senior adviser to the Biden campaign.

“She is there to really talk to people at home and breakthrough about what they’re feeling, their lives and their families,” Sanders told reporters Wednesday morning.

That’s a smart strategy, according to Christine Matthews, a GOP pollster and Trump critic. Matthews tweeted that she understands Harris’ team has been studying research on how voters perceive women in these situations.

“She will be fighting stereotypes of a ‘nasty’ woman while she makes contrast points,” Matthews tweeted.

Research by the Barbara Lee Foundation shows voters will back a male candidate they don’t like, if they think that he’s qualified. But they won’t vote for a woman if she’s not “likeable.”

Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City

Poll: Voters more ‘cold’ than ‘warm’ on both Pence, Harris

Neither of the vice presidential candidates are eliciting warm, fuzzy feelings from a majority of voters, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released before the vice presidential debate.

About half (51%) of registered voters give Pence “cold” ratings and a slightly smaller share (48%) said the same about Harris.

Slightly more than one-third (36%) feel “warmly” toward Pence; 39% do about Harris.

The ratings largely reflect partisan differences with most Republicans feeling positive about Pence but negative about Harris. The reverse is true for Democrats, according to the Sept. 30-Oct. 5 survey of 11,929 adults, including 10,543 registered voters.

Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City

Harris’ debate guests

Two of the limited number of guests Kamala Harris can bring to the debate under COVID restrictions are Utah residents who the campaign says represent “the communities and the families that a Joe Biden and Kamala Harris administration will fight for.”

Teacher Deborah Gatrell is a Blackhawk pilot and Army National Guard veteran. She’s also the only Democrat running for the Salt Lake City council.

“As we all know, down-ballot change is where we see progress made,” Liz Allen, communications director for Harris, told reporters Wednesday.

State Rep. Angela Romero will also be cheering on Harris from inside the debate hall. The campaign called her a longtime community organizer for progressive causes, equality and social justice.

Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City

Poll: Who will win debate vs. who is better prepared for the Oval Office

Who voters expect to win the vice presidential debate is different from which candidate they think is better prepared to become president, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico poll.

Voters surveyed Oct. 2-4 gave the debating edge to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., over Vice President Mike Pence: 43% to 37%. That’s due primarily to independents picking Harris while Democrats and Republicans backed their party’s own running mates.

But 57% of voters said they believed Pence is prepared to step into the Oval Office if necessary compared with 50% for Harris.

Pence did better overall because more Democrats found him prepared to be president than the share of Republicans who said the same of Harris.

Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City

Westward Ho!

The vice presidential candidates are staying in the West following their debate in Salt Lake City.

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to go to Nevada on Thursday and Arizona on Friday.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris are heading to Arizona on Thursday, where they’re expected to meet with American Indian tribal leaders and embark on a “Soul of the Nation” bus tour.

Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, is campaigning in Colorado on Thursday and Friday.

Biden is expected to be in Nevada on Friday.

Maureen Groppe, Salt Lake City

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: VP debate: Watch live as Kamala Harris, Mike Pence face off

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