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Mike Pence-Kamala Harris VP debate: key issues Wednesday night

By Tim Darnell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution #local-all (CNT)

One candidate who has presidential aspirations of her own and another who is only a heartbeat away from the Oval Office will meet Wednesday night in the vice presidential debate.

Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is Democrat Joe Biden’s running mate, will square off at 9 p.m. EDT from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Susan Page of USA Today will moderate the debate.

The debate in Salt Lake City comes less than a week after President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus.

Vice presidential debates usually don’t draw the attention of their presidential counterparts, but 2020 is an election like no other in history, so the actions and comments of both candidates will be heavily scrutinized.

Harris and Pence will be separated by a see-through barrier to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. The Democratic campaign requested the plexiglass shield between the candidates, and an aide to Pence said, “If such a barrier’s critical for the Harris team, then we’re not going to let it stand in the way of having that conversation about the future of our country.”

Harris and Pence will be seated more than 12 feet apart during the matchup, according to an AP anonymous source. Harris’s campaign reported Wednesday morning she has tested negative for the virus, and Pence reported he tested negative on Tuesday.

For his part, Pence will be forced to defend Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. Earlier this year, Pence was put in charge of the White House’s coronavirus task force.

Pence’s boss was discharged Monday night after a three-day hospitalization at Walter Reed Medical Center after the president contracted the virus. The White House has been ravaged by the pandemic, with several high-profile staffers, including press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, testing positive for the disease.

Trump recently gathered more than 150 people in the Rose Garden to announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his latest U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

Besides Trump, among those who attended who have now tested positive include first lady Melania Trump, McEnany, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, the president of the University of Notre Dame and at least two Republican lawmakers, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.

Pence was among those who attended the event, though he has not tested COVID positive.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people stay at home for 14 days after their last exposure to someone with the coronavirus.

Pence traveled to Utah on Monday and is now taking a lead role in the reelection campaign. Trump is recovering and unable to hold rallies or other campaign events.

The coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 in the U.S. and more than 1 million worldwide.

Harris, meanwhile, has been in Utah since Saturday to prepare for the debate. She last reported a negative test Friday and campaigned in Las Vegas later that day.

Harris will make history Wednesday night as the first woman of color to appear as part of a national political ticket. Geraldine Ferraro was the first female vice presidential running mate, on Walter Mondale’s 1984 Democratic ticket that was defeated by President Ronald Reagan in a landslide.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was picked by U.S. Sen. John McCain in 2008 to oppose Biden, who was Democrat Barack Obama’s running mate.

Harris is likely to deliver a message that’s particularly resonant for Black Americans, including the disproportionate toll the coronavirus has taken on their communities and the vital need for access to health care.

The intensifying focus on the vice presidential debate offers Harris an important chance. If Biden serves only one term as president — if he’s elected — Harris would then have a huge advantage over other Democrats who may consider a 2024 run.

Biden’s history-making selection of Harris as his running mate has energized and excited many Black voters, particularly women, who are among the Democratic Party’s most reliable voters. Harris attended Howard University, an HBCU, and was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Members donning the sorority’s green and pink colors can often be spotted outside her events.

Harris can rattle off with ease a lengthy list of policies aimed at improving the lives of Black Americans; one of her challenges is making sure those policies break through. They include investing $70 billion in HBCUs and working to reduce racial gaps in home and business ownership through tax credits for first-time home buyers and ensuring access to capital for Black small-business owners.

On health care, Harris draws a direct connection between the pandemic and health care access for Black people, who are dying at disproportionate rates from the virus. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is set to hear a case just after the Nov. 3 election that could overturn the Affordable Care Act, which protects access to insurance for people with preexisting conditions.

But she’s still facing skepticism about her past as a prosecutor. Police reform, meanwhile, is heavy on the minds of many voters after a summer of several police shootings or killings of Black people. It’s an issue Harris is well versed in as a former prosecutor, and she talks about it with more fluency and nuance than Biden, who largely glossed over the reform proposals in his first debate.

Their proposals include a national registry for police misconduct and a national use-of-force standard that’s stricter than what most states use, as well as banning tactics such as chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.