Fate of Kamala Harris, Mike Pence Vice Presidential Debate Uncertain after Trump COVID Diagnosis

The political world reeled Friday with stunning news that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus after one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, contracted the virus—a development that has thrown the final month before the election into deep uncertainty.

But one of the most pressing issues concerns one of the few marquee events left on the campaign calendar—the vice presidential debate on October 7—an event that now has the added weight of the message it sends to the American people should it be canceled or postponed.

Daniel Garza, president of the LIBRE Initiative, held an event with Mike Pence September 18 in Phoenix, Arizona, aimed at the Latino community. He said safety protocols were in place, including testing two hours prior, and staff on-site were kept away from the vice president, who remained backstage until the event took place.

Garza told Newsweek he believes the debate going forward is important for the country.

"I think they will want to calm folks and give people peace of mind that there is continuity, normalcy, as close as possible to some type of normalcy," he said.

Reflecting on the sensitive, unprecedented nature of what is happening 32 days before an election, Garza said he didn't want to use panic to describe the current situation. "Panic is a strong word. They will want to calm the worry people have about government continuity."

The debate does appear to still be on, at least according to an official from debate host, the University of Utah, who spoke to a local Fox reporter. "The VP debate set for next week is still happening," the reporter, Ben Winslow, tweeted.

But even as of Friday morning it was unclear what the status of the debate was within the Biden campaign, with the Trump campaign not being in touch about updates and exposure to members of the Biden team, a source close to the campaign told Newsweek, citing the next presidential debate set for mid-October as well as the VP debate.

"I can't say what is happening October 15. Will the debate happen Wednesday? I cant tell you," the source said.

There is also a sense of frustration in Biden-world because the campaign takes safety precautions seriously, including temperature checks and masks. It was "disappointing" and "absurd how careless this was," the source concluded.

The Biden campaign did not address Newsweek's questions about the state of the debate, but a spokesperson said, "Senator Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff will continue on their planned travel to Las Vegas, NV and Greensboro, NC respectively. Both were tested again for COVID-19 this morning and both tested negative."

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment. The White House referred questions to the VP's office, which did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

Former Harris senior advisers Emmy Ruiz and Sergio Gonzales told Newsweek that they expect the debate to move forward, with Gonzales allowing that a rescheduling could be possible given the severity of what is going on.

"I would be disappointed not to see Harris prosecute the case against Pence," he said, using the language supporters of the former prosecutor favor against Pence, who they abhor. "I do think it's a very important debate to show the clarity and contrast between both administrations, and obviously Kamala Harris, who a lot of the country is getting to know, and will know more after the debate."

While he expected the debate to move forward, he acknowledged that he would "totally understand" if it was canceled for health and safety considerations.

As things happened so quickly over the last 24 hours, one Republican source in touch recently with Pence's team, sketched out how things could still change for those reasons.

"The next presidential debate is over, Trump is quarantined, he's out," the source told Newsweek. "The VP's most important role is if anything happens to the president so Pence needs to be on alert. If the debate was canceled it would be more to keep the VP safe if President Trump has complications."

Harris pence
Left: Eric Baradat/AFP. Right: Drew Angerer/Getty Getty