SALT LAKE CITY (NewsNation Now) — Vice President Mike Pence defended the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday night, while Democratic challenger Kamala Harris, condemned it, in a debate dominated by the coronavirus.
The debate began with a focus on the coronavirus pandemic, then went into the role of the vice presidency. The two also discussed the economy, the country’s relationship with China, race in America and the Supreme Court. There was also a special appearance by a fly, which was the conversation driver on social media.
With President Donald Trump‘s health in question following his coronavirus diagnosis, the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City drew attention as a chance for voters to decide whether they trust the candidates to step into the presidency if required.
Extra safety precautions were taken to protect the candidates, organizers and the event’s attendees.
Pence and Harris appeared on stage more than 12 feet apart, separated by plexiglass barriers. No handshakes or physical greetings were allowed.
All attendees, including members of the media, were required to get tested for COVID-19, and the Commission on Presidential Debates said anyone not wearing a mask would be “escorted out.” Organizers said that a “small number” of ticketed guests were allowed inside the hall.
Pence, who was with Trump and others last week who have since tested positive, has repeatedly tested negative for the virus, and his staff and doctors insist he does not need to quarantine under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Harris has also tested negative for coronavirus ahead of the debate, the campaign said on Tuesday.
Pence’s team objected to Harris’ request for plexiglass barriers, arguing it was medically unnecessary. But the debates commission had already agreed to the barriers, and Pence’s aides said their presence wouldn’t dissuade him from attending the event.
Prior to the debate, Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said there was “zero risk” of the vice president pulling out of the event over the plexiglass spat. He said Pence “will be there” because it’s “too important for the American people.”
Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for Harris, also confirmed the California’s attendance, saying she would respect “the protections that the Cleveland Clinic has put in place to promote safety for all concerned.” The Cleveland Clinic serves as a health adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Both candidates had plexiglass barriers when the debate began Wednesday night.
Harris, a 55-year-old California senator, is the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. She is also a former prosecutor.
Pence is a 61-year-old former Indiana governor and ex-radio host and evangelical Christian.
The 90-minute debate, held at the University of Utah, was moderated by USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page.
Vice Presidential Debate Headlines
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.