WASHINGTON — On the eve of the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Vice President Mike Pence is pushing back at plans for plexiglass on stage to protect the candidates from the coronavirus, according to a report from the Washington Post.
Marc Short, chief of staff for the vice president, told The Post the addition of plexiglass isn’t necessary given other new safety accommodations including keeping the two candidates 12 feet and three inches away as well as daily testing. The vice president requested that plexiglass not be placed on his side of the stage.
Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Sen. Kamala Harris said she will abide by the preparations in what’s become the latest political fight over COVID-19 restrictions.
Pence’s request comes one day after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced new rules for the vice presidential debate that included plexiglass on the debate stage inside Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah. Changes came in response to President Donald Trump and several other GOP allies testing positive for COVID-19 two days after the presidential debate in Cleveland last week.
“If she wants it, she’s more than welcome to surround herself with plexiglass if that makes her feel more comfortable,” Short told The Post. “It’s not needed.”
A spokesperson for the Commission for Presidential Debates did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Harris campaign said Harris will follow the protections recommended by health experts including plexiglass on her side of the debate stage.
“Senator Harris will be at the debate, respecting the protections that the Cleveland Clinic has put in place to promote safety for all concerned,” said Sabrina Singh, Harris’ press secretary. “If the Trump administration’s war on masks has now become a war on safety shields, that tells you everything you need to know about why their COVID response is a failure.”
Pence tested negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a memo addressed to Short said he’s concluded it is safe for Pence to participate in the debate.
He said he consulted with White House physician Dr. Jesse Schonau regarding any potential COVID-19 exposure for the vice president. This would involve being six feet from a COVID-infected individual for 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset.
“Based on the description of the movements of the Vice President from Dr. Shonau (sic), the vice president is not a close contact of any known person with COVID-19, including the President,” Redfield wrote in the memo.
The plexiglass dispute underscores a larger policy disagreement between the two campaigns over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has advocated for following COVID safety guidelines stringently, including calling on governors to enforce mask mandates, while Trump has been more cavalier in his attitude toward measures.
Trump, first lady Melania Trump and several White House staffers and allies tested positive for COVID-19 days after the first presidential debate in Cleveland. Trump announced on Twitter Tuesday that he plans to take part in the second presidential debate next week in Miami – even though he’s not been medically cleared of COVID-19.
Biden told reporters Tuesday that the vice presidential debate Wednesday would be safe because of enhanced safety precautions, but that the presidential debate Oct. 15 not happen if President Donald Trump is still infected.
“I think what they’re doing at the Harris debate, I’ve been told, I don’t know this for fact, they’re using plexiglass, and are following what the Cleveland Clinic says,” Biden said.
“I’m not sure what President Trump is all about now. I don’t know what his status is,” Biden said. “I’m looking forward to being able to debate him, but I just hope all the protocols are followed.”
“Well, uh, I think if he still has COVID, we shouldn’t have a debate,” Biden said. “I think we were gonna have to follow very strict guidelines. Too many people have been infected. It’s a very serious problem, so I will be guided by the guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic and what the docs say is the right thing to do.”
Trump, who returned to the White House Monday night after being hospitalized for three days at Walter Reed National Medical Center, arrived at the Cleveland debate too late to be tested for the virus, according to moderator Chris Wallace. Members of the Trump family also did not wear masks inside the debate hall.
Among rules for Wednesday’s debate, everyone in the debate hall will be subject to COVID testing and mask use. Anyone who does not wear a mask is to be escorted out.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison. Contributing: Bart Jansen