US Elections: Kamala Harris vs Mike Pence; What to watch out for in the debate

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Mr. Pence will probably be pressed to defend President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, and his own actions as well. Ms. Harris will have to defend not just her record, but also Joe Biden’s.

  • The debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will begin at 9 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday (1 a.m. Thursday Ghana Time) and run for 90 minutes without commercial interruptions. This will be their only debate.
  • The Times will livestream the event, accompanied by analysis and fact-checking from our reporters. The debate will also be carried on networks including ABC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News, MSNBC and NBC.
  • Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today, will moderate the debate, which will be held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

It is difficult to overstate how much this debate has been shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, from President Trump’s hospitalization with the disease to the last-minute skirmish between the Biden and Trump camps over whether Mr. Pence — who has interacted with White House advisers who have since tested positive for the coronavirus — should stand behind a protective plexiglass screen.

Mr. Pence, as the head of White House task force on the coronavirus, will presumably be pressed to account for the faltering White House response to a pandemic that has killed over 200,000 people in the United States. Since returning from the hospital, Mr. Trump has sought to recast the entire discussion on the pandemic, arguing that the virus is in fact not that serious and that Americans should continue to live their lives.

Will Mr. Pence carry Mr. Trump’s argument to Ms. Harris and the American public Wednesday night? Many polls suggest that it defies the fears of most Americans struggling to navigate the pandemic.

Mr. Pence is also likely to be pressed to defend Mr. Trump’s actions since his illness was diagnosed — leaving the hospital against the counsel of many medical professionals, minimizing the threat of the virus and dramatically removing his mask when he returned to the White House. The president has offered himself as evidence that Covid-19 can be beaten; does Mr. Pence agree with that?

For Mr. Pence, it’s not simply a matter of embracing an argument that the president thinks might help him win re-election. This is almost certainly Mr. Trump’s last campaign. At 61, Mr. Pence is looking at continuing his career in politics. How he handles those questions could end up defining him for a long time.

Vice President Mike Pence arriving to speak at a gathering of people in Pennsylvania who would watch the presidential debate last week.Credit…Mark Makela for The New York Times

Vice-presidential candidates have only two things to accomplish in a debate: Defend the person at the top of your ticket. And attack the person at the top of the opposition ticket.