Politico

Plexiglass, masks, and tape measures: Scenes from a pandemic-era vice presidential debate


Chairs have been distanced with tape measures. Plexiglass has been erected and wiped down. Negotiations have been made. It’s a vice presidential debate like we’ve never seen before.

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic presidential nominee Kamala Harris meet Wednesday for their first and only debate — one that will feature a number of new safety precautions.

The event comes on the heels of a raucous first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and an outbreak of coronavirus in Washington that has sickened the president and dozens of others.

The precautions

After last week’s showing between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, and in response to an ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the campaigns negotiated for more distance between the vice presidential candidates — and physical barriers.

After Trump’s positive Covid diagnosis on Oct. 1, concerns arose that the president may have infected Biden during their debate two days earlier, and that Pence could still test positive after appearing with Trump while he was contagious. Pence has tested negative for coronavirus in recent days.

Trump and Biden stood roughly 7 feet apart on Sept. 29, and did not greet each other with a handshake prior to the debate. Both Biden and Harris have continued to yield negative test results. Pence and Harris will be separated by 12 feet, 3 inches, and two sheets of plexiglass.

It won’t be a first, though, as other ebates in recent days have featured transparent barriers: Plexiglass separated South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison during their debate on Oct. 3, and Arizona Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic challenger Mark Kelly on Tuesday.


Workers set up plexiglass barriers on the debate stage on Tuesday as Pence and Harris officials continued to negotiate safety precautions.


Commission on Presidential Debates workers measure distance between chairs on Tuesday. Those who attend the debate will be seated distantly.


A sign outside the venue notes that face coverings are required. Everyone aside from the candidates and the moderator will be required to wear masks for the duration of the debate. The rule will be enforced after a number of Trump family members and officials removed their face coverings after entering the debate hall last week in Cleveland.

The candidates

Pence and Harris both enter the debate with high expectations.


Pence, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, is charged with defending the administration’s response to the pandemic, and inevitably take questions about the events that lead to dozens of White House officials and Congressional leaders testing positive.


Harris, meanwhile, returns to a debate stage after some bruising appearances during the primaries. Though she has has been a relatively quiet running mate, aides say the California senator is prepared to maximize her appeal on the biggest stage yet.

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