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Pence agrees to plexiglass barrier for debate after early objections

Pence and Harris prepare for one and only VP debate
Pence and Harris prepare to face off in one and only vice presidential debate 02:34

Vice President Mike Pence has agreed to a plexiglass barrier on his side of the debate stage at Wednesday's contest with Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris after earlier objections to the separation.

Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., a co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told the Washington Post in an interview that Pence's campaign said "if Senator Harris feels safer to have two plexiglass dividers up, we have no objections."

The concession from representatives of the Trump-Pence campaign came after wrangling over whether plexiglass was needed on Pence's side of the stage at Wednesday's vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

The Biden-Harris campaign made the initial request for the barrier and it was approved by the CPD, CBS News confirmed. Politico first reported the debate's use of plexiglass. 

A senior official close to Pence confirmed the vice president did not want plexiglass on his side of the stage and said Harris and debate moderator Susan Page could do what they wanted, but Pence did not want the barrier, which would provide additional protection from COVID-19.

The senior official added that CDC guidance recommends plexiglass whenever 6 feet of distance isn't possible, but tables at the debate are more than 12 feet apart.  

On Monday, the commission said "plexiglass will be used as part of the [Commission on Presidential Debate's] overall approach to health and safety."

In response to the request from the Biden-Harris camp, the vice president's communications director, Katie Miller, said, "If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it," according to Politico.

Page and the two candidates will all be seated 12' 3" apart. Once the candidates and moderator are on stage, they will not wear masks.

The dispute over the plexiglass barriers came as the number of White House staff infected with COVID-19 continued to grow. President Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus late last week, and Mr. Trump spent three days being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

The latest aide to test positive is Stephen Miller, a top White House adviser and husband to Katie Miller, Pence's spokeswoman. Katie Miller had the coronavirus earlier this year. 

Pence tested negative Tuesday, his White House physician said.

The debate Wednesday will be 90 minutes long, from 9 p.m. ET to 10:30 p.m. ET, without commercial breaks, and it will be divided into nine segments of 10 minutes each. Candidates will not make opening or closing statements.

The CPD says that there will be a "small number" of ticketed guests at the debate, which will take place at the University of Utah. Those in the debate hall will be required to take COVID tests and use masks. Anyone not wearing a mask "will be escorted out," the CPD said. At the first presidential debate last week, Mr. Trump's family declined to wear masks in the debate hall. Pence left for Utah on Monday, and just before his departure from Joint Base Andrews, he told reporters that he had spoken with Mr. Trump. 

"He told me to head to Utah and we're looking very much forward to the vice presidential debate," Pence said.

Mr. Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden had their first debate on Tuesday, just before Mr. Trump announced in the middle of the night later that week that he had been infected by COVID-19.

Ed O'Keefe and Musadiq Bidar contributed to this report.

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