Tue. Jan 26th, 2021

NEW YORK — As U.S. President Donald Trump recovers from a COVID-19 infection, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris go head to head in this election cycle’s sole vice presidential debate Wednesday night.

With less than a month until the Nov. 3 elections, the 90-minute debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City is expected to receive outsize interest, as the two battle to convince voters they are ready to step into the top job if necessary.

Here are the latest developments (U.S. Eastern time):

9:29 p.m. Pence describes Trump as “a businessman, a job creator,” who has paid “tens of billions in taxes, [through] payrolls.”

9:28 p.m. “The one thing we all know about Joe — he puts it all out there. He is honest. He’s forthright,” Harris says. “But Donald Trump on the other hand, has been about covering up everything.”

9:27 p.m. Harris highlights her record as the first woman of color and black woman to be elected Attorney General of California and portrayed herself as a reformer of the criminal justice system — which lies at the center of U.S. race relations.

9:23 p.m. Harris digs into Pence’s defense that the Trump administration respects Americans’ freedom to make their own decisions: “It is asking too much of the people,” who are not given the information needed to protect themselves, she says, accusing the administration of withholding information.

9:20 p.m. On vaccine development, Pence shoots back at Harris’ criticism. “You continue to undermine the confidence in the vaccine, it’s just unacceptable,” Pence says. “We’re going to have a vaccine in less than a year, in unheard of time, we’re producing tens of millions of doses.”

9:15 p.m. When asked about the White House gathering to introduce Supreme Court justice candidate Amy Coney Barrett, which ended up being a “super-spreader” event, Pence says: “President Trump and I trust the American people to [make decisions] in the best interest of their health.”

Pence says the event was held outdoors, as recommended by medical professionals.

“We’re about freedom and respect the American people” when responding to their view on masks.

9:08 p.m. Harris slams the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus. “The American people have witnessed what is the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country,” pointing to the more than 210,000 Americans who have lost their lives to the disease.

9:00 p.m. Debate begins. Moderator Susan Page announces that neither side has been told of the topics that will be raised at the event, or the questions that will be asked.

Debate moderator Susan Page takes the stage during the 2020 vice presidential debate.   © Reuters

8:50 p.m. Pence is not only debating “as the vice president, but also head of Trump’s coronavirus task force,” Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, told NBC News. It is clear that President Trump’s coronavirus response will be a hot topic tonight.

Beschloss said that Pence can deliver a blow to his opponent “in a nice way,” and Harris can do that too. There will be much to watch for.

8:45 p.m. “We all know Mike Pence is a very good debater,” Karine Jean-Pierre, senior advisor of the Biden-Harris campaign, tells ABC, in an apparent bid to downplay expectations.

But “this debate is about Donald Trump’s failure to contain COVID-19 [and to] help working families, and not just the last six months or seven months, really the last four years,” said Jean-Pierre.

At the debate, Harris is going to “bring the case forward on why a Biden-Harris administration could lead to a different America,” she said.

A member of the production staff puts labels on seats in an effort to keep seats socially distanced ahead of the vice presidential debate.   © AP

8:30 p.m. Indian-Americans are holding debate-watching events to root for Harris, whose mother was born in India. “We are expecting Kamala Harris to really outperform tonight and convince America that she is not a leftist,” Suresh Kumar, a professor of entrepreneurship at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, says as he sits down to watch the event with his wife and 10-year-old son in their apartment. A bowl of Papdi Chaat, a popular street food dish in India, is on the table.

“She is an excellent orator, very persuasive, very convincing,” New-York resident Neha Dewan says. Dewan, who works for a national law firm, is waiting to watch with her husband in their apartment, after putting their 7-year-old daughter to bed. They have popcorn and Gulab Jamun, an Indian dessert, ready for snacking.

Karthik Soora, an executive at a solar power company in Houston, says, “Since her middle name is Devi I’ll be praying to Durga Maa tonight (a Hindu goddess also known as the protective mother of the universe).” He will be watching with his wife and dog, Bhoomi (meaning Earth), who is dressed in Vote-for-Biden paraphernalia, in their apartment.

Audience members enter Kingsbury Hall for the vice presidential debate.   © AP

7:00 p.m. Two hours until kick off. Unlike with the presidential debate, the topics have not been announced. The debate will be divided into nine segments of approximately 10 minutes each, and be moderated by Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief.

Pence’s guests will include the parents of murdered ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller — an apparent attempt to attack the Obama-Biden administration’s record dealing with terrorism. Ann Marie Dorn, the widow of retired St. Louis police captain David Dorn, who was shot and killed on June 2 after a violent night of protests, is also on the guest list.

Harris has invited Utah state Rep. Angela Romero, a longtime community organizer for progressive causes, and Deborah Gatrell, a high school teacher running for Salt Lake County Council.

By Bureau