Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will debate for the first and only time this election tonight, October 7, in Salt Lake City. Despite objections from the Pence team, there will be a plexiglass barrier separating the two candidates, one of whom has been in contact with the world’s most famous coronavirus patient, President Donald Trump.
However, as images of the plexiglass divide began to trickle out Wednesday morning, most found the degree of protection it afforded laughable.
Here’s what you need to know:
Pence’s Team Initially Objected to the Plexiglass Barriers, But Agreed on October 5
They’re putting plexiglass in between Harris and Pence for the debate. Pence’s folks criticized the move, because they don’t want a constant visual reminder that coronavirus exists. Well, then maybe you should’ve done your damn job. We wouldn’t be in this mess. Vote Biden-Harris.
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) October 5, 2020
The Trump campaign initially objected to any sort of divider, but during a later walkthrough of the debate hall saw that small barriers had already been built in and OK’d them, The Washington Post reported.
The key for both sides of the plexiglass debate was optics, with Trump’s campaign not wanting to remind people that coronavirus remains a threat and Biden’s team planning to hammer the administration’s handling of the pandemic, the outlet added.
Pence’s team also thought the barriers weren’t needed, because Pence and the second lady, Karen Pence, have both tested negative, The Hill reported.
Pence team objects to plexiglass being installed for both VP and Sen. Harris at upcoming debate, we've confirmed. Pence officials don't have a problem if Harris would like plexiglass to protect her at debate. But Pence team believes it's not necessary for VP to have that too.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) October 6, 2020
CNN’s Jim Acosta added that the Pence team initially said that Harris could have a barrier if she wanted it, but it wasn’t necessary for Pence.
When Photos of the Barriers Appeared on Social Media Tuesday, They Were Roundly Mocked as Inadequate
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) October 7, 2020
Pence and Harris will be seated at desks about 13 feet apart, with small, cylindrical barriers at their sides. NBC News’ Geoff Bennett posted one of the first images from inside the Salt Lake City auditorium, and the reviews were not kind.
The plexiglass really brings this laughably inadequate infection control theater set together. https://t.co/3N9E0wDQ6N
— Dr. Angela Rasmussen (@angie_rasmussen) October 7, 2020
“The plexiglass really brings this laughably inadequate infection control theater set together,” Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen has been a critic of the Trump administration’s pandemic response, and this week said that the cocktail of treatments the president has been undergoing for his COVID-19 case raises serious questions about his condition.
Talking Points Media’s Josh Marshall called the barriers a “total Joke.”
Looks like the small plexiglass barriers at grocery store cash registers that are more safety theater vs. doing much to protect the cashiers. https://t.co/4PJvSAsbgx
— Nathaniel Meyersohn (@nmeyersohn) October 7, 2020
Nathaniel Meyersohn, of CNN Business, meanwhile said they look “like the small plexiglass barriers at grocery store cash registers that are more safety theater vs. doing much to protect the cashiers.”
This plexiglass is the equivalent of wearing a mask over your mouth but not your nose https://t.co/y5etSycwmQ
— Adam Blickstein (@AdamBlickstein) October 7, 2020
“This plexiglass is the equivalent of wearing a mask over your mouth but not your nose,” former Department of Defense spokesman Adam Blickstein snarked.
The debate starts tonight at 9 p.m. eastern, and will run for 90 minutes, without commercials. With Trump still recovering from coronavirus and Biden’s age very much a concern with voters, it’s sure to be one of the most consequential of the election. You can find ways to stream the debate live here.