NBC News- WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is at odds with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., over the use of plexiglass barriers at Wednesday's vice presidential debate.
According to a White House official, Pence does not want a plexiglass divider on his side of the stage for the Salt Lake City, Utah, debate. Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, had requested the plastic barrier as a safety measure over Pence’s potential exposure to President Donald Trump, who tested positive for Covid-19 overnight Thursday. Over a dozen people tied to Trump have since tested positive for the virus since then, though Pence has reported multiple negative test results.
The vice president’s physician released a letter Tuesday stating Pence was not considered a close contact, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as a person who spent 15 minutes or more within six feet of a known positive case. Pence’s doctor concluded he was "encouraged to go about his normal activities and does not need to quarantine."
The Commission on Presidential Debates approved Harris’ request but did not offer any details on where the plexiglass would be placed on the stage.
Pence’s team argued the ask is excessive given that CDC guidelines currently recommend that kind of divider when six feet of distance is not possible. Both candidates will be separated by about 12 feet of space, increased from the original seven feet as a health precaution. The vice president’s aides feel strongly that the distance, plus requirements for negative coronavirus test results on the day of the debate, are sufficient, a White House official said.
After Harris made the original request, Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller replied: "If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it." Miller herself tested positive for the virus in May. Pence is the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which has been heavily scrutinized in recent months over its response to the pandemic.
Attendees at Wednesday’s debate will be asked to wear masks in the hall. That was the original expectation at the first general election debate between Trump and Joe Biden in Cleveland, but many invited guests on the Republican side promptly removed their face coverings after taking their seats.
The next two presidential debates are set for Oct. 15 and 22 in Miami and Nashville respectively. Trump and his re-election campaign have signaled the president intends to participate in person, even though he may still be recovering from the virus.