Harris Team Is Confident About Health Precautions at Debate

Kamala Harris’s advisers deflected questions about health concerns ahead of the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday, insisting they were confident the Cleveland Clinic and the Commission on Presidential Debates would ensure safety precautions were followed.

Both Harris and Vice President Mike Pence have tested negative for the coronavirus over the last few days, but some health experts have raised concerns about Pence’s possible exposure given the spread of the virus through the White House. President Donald Trump was hospitalized for the virus over the weekend and more than 10 White House officials have tested positive, including senior adviser Stephen Miller, who is married to Pence’s communications director.

The debate in Salt Lake City will begin at 9 p.m. New York time. It will be held inside, though Harris and Pence will be 12 feet apart and have plexiglass shields between them. The Cleveland Clinic is serving as the health security adviser to the commission for all four debates this year.

“The presidential debate commission and the Cleveland Clinic are responsible for the safety of the debate,” Liz Allen, Harris’s communications director, said on a call with reporters Wednesday morning. “As long as we are following their guidance, we feel good.”

A major sticking point was resolved Tuesday night, when the Pence campaign agreed to a plexiglass shield for the candidate after initially rejecting the idea. Pence’s team had argued that the 12-foot distance between the debaters was sufficient to ensure safety. Two people familiar with the matter said the campaign agreed to comply with the rules in order for the debate to proceed as scheduled.

The debate, held at the University of Utah, will be the only meeting between the two vice presidential candidates.

Harris’s advisers also sought to downplay expectations, expressing confidence in the vice-presidential nominee’s ability to point out the failures of the Trump administration but underscoring Pence’s skills as a debater.

“We do expect Mike Pence to have a good debate,” said Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to the campaign. “He has a history of being a successful debater, he’s a talk show host.”

But Sanders added: “Just because Mike Pence can deliver a line doesn’t make it true. It’s easy to win a debate, if you don’t care about telling the truth.”

Harris’s advisers, however, said she would not be playing the role of fact checker during the debate, and instead would focus on speaking directly to the American people about how a Biden administration would improve their lives.

“This debate really is about president Trump’s failed leadership and the Trump-Pence record of failing American families over the past four years,” Allen said.

The Harris campaign has been preparing for the debates for weeks. The preparations have been led by Karen Dunn, a veteran Washington lawyer who was involved in helping Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and 2016 vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine with their debates. Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has been playing Pence in mock debates with Harris.

Following the debate, Harris will travel to Arizona to campaign with presidential nominee Joe Biden, their first joint campaign appearance since the Democratic National Convention in August.

— With assistance by Jennifer Epstein

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