Pence vs. Harris: Here’s what to know about the 2020 vice presidential debate

Plus, more details on the upcoming faceoffs between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

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–AP Photo

Now less than a week away, the 2020 general election debates are creeping to the top of voters’ minds.

The first of three presidential debates is set to kick off on Tuesday, Sept. 29, while Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) are slated to square off one-time-only on Wednesday, Oct. 7. 

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging on, there’s plenty to anticipate from the vice-presidential debates. 

Below, see a rundown of what we know about the format and schedule for the VP event — plus, some new details on the three upcoming face-offs between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden

Where is it hosted, and will there be an audience? 

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The VP debate is set to take place at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, according to the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. More specifically, it’ll be hosted at Kingsbury Hall on President’s Circle in the Nancy Peery Marriott Auditorium. 

With COVID-19 still at large across the country, it’s unclear what specific social distancing requirements or other virus-related precautions will need to be put in place to carry out the event safely. As we saw during the final Democratic primary debate between Biden and Bernie Sanders in mid-March, candidates’ podiums will likely be spaced six feet apart and elbow bumps will probably replace opening handshakes. 

Frank J. Fahrenkopf, co-chairman of the CPD, reportedly confirmed in a virtual briefing over the summer that the gathering will feature a live audience, just one significantly smaller than in the past. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Fahrenkopf anticipates there will be no more than 150 to 200 people on-site. 

Tickets to the event are extremely limited, according to the university’s website, and are not available to the general public. 

Harris and Pence will take to the stage, but who’s moderating? 

The CPD announced in early September that Susan Page, the Washington Bureau Chief for USA TODAY, will oversee the event. Though she said she’s covered the White House for four decades, and through six presidencies, this will be her first time hosting a debate. 

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“The debates are a crucial part of making our democracy work,” Page told USA TODAY, “and I am honored to participate.” 

How can you watch the event? 

The VP Debate is expected to air live on multiple major news stations including ABC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, and NBC at 9 p.m. EST. The CPD recommended that all viewers check their local listings for exact details, but noted that the event will run for 90 minutes without commercial interruption.

Here’s what else to know about the three upcoming presidential debates

The CPD Tuesday announced that the moderator for the first debate, “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace, had officially picked the issues he will pose to the two presidential candidates next week at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

While topics may not be brought up in this order, the debate will focus on the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the current economy, race and violence in cities across the country, the Trump and Biden records, and the integrity of the election.

The commission explained that topics were “announced in advance in order to encourage deep discussion of the leading issues facing the country.”

Officials also noted that each talking point is “subject to possible changes because of news developments.” 

The CPD has yet to reveal any other topics for the forthcoming 2020 general election debates.

Steve Scully, a senior executive producer and political editor for C-SPAN Networks, will moderate the second presidential debate, which is slated for Thursday, Oct. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

For the third debate on Thursday, Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, the CPD selected Kristen Welker of NBC News to moderate. Welker is a White House correspondent and co-anchor of Weekend Today.

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“We are grateful to these experienced journalists, who will help ensure that the general election presidential debates continue to serve their unique educational purpose of helping the public learn about the candidates,” Fahrenkopf, Dorothy S. Ridings, and Kenneth Wollack, all co-chairs of the CPD, said in a joint statement. “Each individual brings great professionalism to moderating and understands that the purpose of the 2020 debate formats is to facilitate in-depth discussion of major topics.”

As far as distributing tickets and determining the size of the live audience, the commission will make the final call before each of the three events. 

Each venue, however, has its own safety plan — most of which include limiting audience size, adding distance between seats, conducting personal health screenings, and implementing disinfectant measures. 

The exact details may ultimately change based on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, however.

What would you most like to see covered in the debates? Take our poll below.


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