Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris will be placed farther apart at their debate this Wednesday, a response to President Donald Trump’s diagnosis of COVID-19, according to people familiar with the development.
The Commission on Presidential Debates plans to seat Pence and Harris 12 feet (3.7 meters) apart, rather than 7 feet, as initially planned, according to people familiar with the procedure, who asked not to be named discussing information not yet public.
The move comes after the announcement earlier Friday that Trump had contracted COVID-19, adding uncertainty to the presidential race.
Trump was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday evening to be treated over the coming days. One of his top aides, Hope Hicks, has also tested positive for the highly contagious virus. The White House said Pence had tested negative.
The only debate between the running mates is scheduled to be held on Oct. 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and will be moderated by Susan Page of USA Today.
The two candidates will be seated, instead of standing at lecterns as Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden were at their raucous debate this week, which featured name-calling and frequent interruptions as the two men shouted over each other.
At that forum, some Trump family members and allies weren’t wearing masks, despite a requirement from the organizers that they do so.
It’s unclear if the change to the set-up for the vice-presidential debate was a preemptive measure undertaken by the CPD or if it was initiated by the Biden-Harris or the Trump-Pence campaigns. Earlier Friday, a statement from Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh suggested that the president’s team didn’t raise the issue but was open to the changes.
“We are open to more space between the candidates, which we will be happy to discuss. This is a seated debate, so it’s just a matter of moving farther apart at the table,” Murtaugh said in a statement.
Messages left for the CPD and the Harris campaign weren’t immediately returned.
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