Show an ad over header. AMP

VP debate preview: Trump's COVID diagnosis brings pandemic to center stage

The Trump campaign is quickly turning what was expected to be a buttoned-up vice presidential debate into a TV spectacle.

Why it matters: The stakes are much higher tonight. President Trump’s positive COVID diagnosis is a stark reminder that the VP isn’t just an understudy waiting in the wings. With both presidential candidates in their 70s, Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris' roles are more important than ever.

Driving the news: The parents of murdered ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller are on the campaign's debate guest list, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports. So is the deceased rapper Tupac Shakur, the campaign said (A reference to Harris calling him her favorite living rapper).

Logistics: Pence and Harris will be separated by plexiglass barriers, and any guest who refuses to wear a face mask will be removed.

  • Both Pence and Harris have tested negative for the virus prior to the debate, which runs from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ET at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
  • USA Today's Susan Page will moderate.

What to watch: Pence has a much harder job heading into tonight's debate now that the president and several of his top officials have tested positive for coronavirus.

  • He'll be forced to defend the administration's botched response to the pandemic — an issue the White House has consistently polled poorly on with key voters.
  • Harris plans to use this to her advantage and grill Pence on how, under his leadership as the head of the White House coronavirus task force, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died.
  • But "he’s not there to eviscerate Mike Pence,” Biden campaign adviser Symone Sanders told AP. "She is there to really talk to people at home."

Behind the scenes: Pence has done his homework. He's spent days poring through his briefing books and has held at least two full mock debate sessions with former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, as Axios first reported on Sunday.

  • Sources close to Pence and the Trump campaign tell Axios they feel confident about tonight, and hope Pence’s calm and disciplined demeanor will stand in contrast to the chaos we saw on the debate stage last week.
  • Pence is much more ideological than Trump, they argue, and his policy expertise will allow him to navigate Harris' tough questions.
  • "Pence is an underrated debater. He's one of the most unflappable politicians you'll ever meet," a Trump adviser said. "He'll have some tough questions about the White House getting COVID, but I think it's likely that he'll have a good debate performance. A calming, stable performance."
  • But the campaign also recognizes Harris as a worthy opponent. “We anticipate Harris to be very good. She’s a former prosecutor, obviously a member of the senate, and she’s a good debater,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtuah, who is in Utah for the debate, tells Axios.

Pence will focus on making Harris defend her record of supporting progressive legislation, including being a co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ "Medicare for All" bill and an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.

  • "She will have to defend the radical agenda that Joe Biden is carrying for the left. …Remember, Kamala Harris was rated the most liberal member of the entire U.S. Senate in 2019,” Murtaugh said.
  • Meanwhile, Harris plans to keep the focus on Trump and the pandemic.
  • Senior aides tell Axios' Alexi McCammond that she intends to make an appeal to the American people by addressing them directly — looking into the camera as she speaks about the more than 200,000 people who died from COVID under the Trump administration's watch.

Defense makes closing arguments in Chauvin trial

Chauvin's defense attorney Eric Nelson opened his closing argument on Monday by reminding the jury that Derek Chauvin "does not have to prove his innocence."

Why it matters: The jury's verdict in Chauvin's murder trial is seen by advocates as one of the most crucial civil rights cases in decades.

Keep reading... Show less

Merrick Garland: Domestic terrorism is "still with us" and remains critical threat

In his first major speech, Attorney General Merrick Garland warned the nation Monday to remain vigilant against the rising threat of domestic extremism.

Why it matters: Domestic terrorism poses an "elevated threat" to the nation this year, according to U.S. intelligence. Garland has already pledged to crack down on violence linked to white supremacists and right-wing militia groups.

Keep reading... Show less

"Nine minutes and 29 seconds": Prosecutors begin closing arguments in Chauvin trial

Steve Schleicher, an attorney for the prosecution in Derek Chauvin's trial, began closing arguments on Monday by describing in detail George Floyd's last moments — crying out for help and surrounded by strangers, as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

Why it matters: The jury's verdict in Chauvin's murder trial, seen by advocates as one of the most crucial civil rights cases in decades, will reverberate across the country and have major implications in the fight for racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less

European soccer goes to war over wealthy clubs' plans for exclusive "Super League"

Europe's biggest soccer clubs have established The Super League, a new midweek tournament that would compete with — and threaten the very existence of — the Champions League.

Why it matters: This new league, set to start in 2023, "would bring about the most significant restructuring of elite European soccer since the 1950s, and could herald the largest transfer of wealth to a small set of teams in modern sports history," writes NYT's Tariq Panja.

Keep reading... Show less

81% of S&P 500 companies have reported a positive earnings surprise for Q1

First-quarter earnings so far have been very strong, outpacing even the rosy expectations from Wall Street and that's a trend that's expected to continue for all of 2021. S&P 500 companies are on pace for one of the best quarters of positive earnings surprises on record, according to FactSet.

Why it matters: The results show that not only has the earnings recession ended for U.S. companies, but firms are performing better than expected and the economy may be justifying all the hype.

Keep reading... Show less

NASA's Mars helicopter takes flight as first aircraft piloted on another planet

NASA successfully piloted the Ingenuity Mars helicopter for its first experimental flight on Monday, briefly hopping the aircraft as NASA's Perseverance rover collected data.

Why it matters: Ingenuity's short flight marks the first time a human-built aircraft has flown on a world other than Earth, opening the door to new means of exploring planets far from our own.

Keep reading... Show less

All U.S. adults now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine, meeting Biden's April 19 deadline

All 50 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have now made U.S. adults over the age of 16 eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, meeting President Biden's April 19 deadline.

Why it matters: The landmark speaks to the increased pace of the national vaccination campaign, but will increase pressure on the federal government, states and pharmaceutical companies to provide adequate vaccine supply and logistics.

Keep reading... Show less

Minneapolis braces for a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial

Minneapolis is waking up to images of an occupied city on Monday, as the city and the world await a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial.

What it's like: Residents running errands, picking up dinner and heading to the dog park in recent days encountered heavily-armed National Guard troops stationed throughout the city.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories