Vice President Mike Pence is expected to bring murdered ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller’s parents to the vice presidential debate – the same day two of her alleged torturers were indicted in the U.S., raising questions on whether the charges were timed to help the VP.
Axios first reported Carl and Marsha Mueller would be Pence’s guests, as he debates Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris Wednesday night from Salt Lake City.
The report came out on the heels of one-half of the so-called ‘Beatles’ ISIS fighters – Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – being charged with a slew of crimes related to Kayla Mueller and journalist James Foley’s deaths.
Spokespeople for Pence and the Trump campaign have not responded to DailyMail.com’s request for comment on whether the vice president was aware of the forthcoming indictments when the Muellers were invited.
Harris plans to bring two up-and-coming Utah Democratic politicians as her guests.
The debate will kick off Wednesday night at 9 p.m. EST after Tuesday was consumed by the debate over whether plexiglass would separate the candidates.
The move was a direct response to President Donald Trump contracting the coronavirus and the broader White House outbreak.
Having the Muellers at his side will allow Pence to hit Harris on Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s time in office – as they’ve blamed him and President Barack Obama for failing to save Kayla Mueller’s life.
But the plexiglass will serve as a constant reminder of the coronavirus pandemic, which Democrats have hammered Trump and Pence over.
Vice President Mike Pence (left) will bring the parents of Kayla Mueller, an American murdered by ISIS, to Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate, while Demcoratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will bring two up-and-coming Utah Democrats
THE STAGE IS SET: A back-and-forth over plexiglass barriers played out all day Tuesday
Carl (left) and Marsha Mueller (right) will be the guests of Vice President Mike Pence at the vice presidential debate. Here they hold up a photo of their murdered daughter Kayla Mueller while speaking at the Republican National Convention in August
The report that the Muellers would be Pence’s guests came on the heels of ISIS fighters Alexanda Amon Kotey (left) and El Shafee Elsheikh (right) being flown to the U.S. and indicted on crimes associated with Mayla Mueller’s and journalist James Foley’s deaths
On Wednesday morning, Democrats were playing the expectations game, in case Harris stumbled at the debate like 2016 vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine did four years before.
‘Tonight we do expect Mike Pence to have a good debate. He has a history of being a successful debater,’ said Symone Sanders of the Biden campaign on a call with reporters. ‘He was a talk show host. So, look, we are not coming in underestimating him.’
Sen. Cory Booker – a Senate colleague of Harris’ and a former 2020 competitor – also hinted the Salt Lake City debate could be a draw.
‘We know that Vice President Mike Pence is a formidable debater and we know that tonight is a challenge for those who love and know Kamala,’ Booker said.
The New Jersey Democrat also pointed out the historic nature of the event, as Harris is the first woman of color to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket.
‘Her ancestors are celebrating,’ he said on the call with Sanders. ‘There are many children, as I’ve sent her pictures of friends of mine who have sent me pictures of black and Indian girls rapt by the TV watching Kamala.’
Initially, Pence’s team objected to Harris’ request for plexiglass barriers, arguing it was medically unnecessary. But the Commission on Presidential Debates had already agreed to the barriers, and Pence’s aides said their presence wouldn’t dissuade him from attending the event
A member of the production crew cleans glass on stage which will serve as a barrier to protect the spread of COVID-19 as preparations take place for the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah on Tuesday
Pence and Harris will appear on stage exactly 12.25 feet apart separated by the plexiglass barriers (pictured being set up on Tuesday)
The White House put out two health updates on Pence Tuesday, one from his doctor and one from CDC Director Robert Redfield, explaining that none of the people the vice president interacted were ‘close contacts’ despite him being in the Rose Garden on September 26
Pence was also seated front row at a Gold Star families event Sunday, September 27 where at least one person has tested positive for COVID-19. The vice president, however, wasn’t seated close enough to the individual for him to fall under CDC’s quarantine guidelines
Sen. Cory Booker, a colleague and former 2020 rival of Kamala Harris, talked about the historic nature of Wednesday night’s debate, as Harris is the first woman of color to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket
‘I think she’ll do well,’ Democratic nominee Joe Biden told reporters as he entered Wilmington’s Queen theater Wednesday in the hours before his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, hits the debate stage
‘This is going to be one of those nights that’s going to reverberate in many ways,’ he added.
Across-the-aisle, the Trump-Pence campaign was deploying the same strategy and touting Harris’ ability to debate.
‘Kamala Harris has been around the debate stage,’ the Trump campaign’s Communications Director Tim Murtaugh said on Fox News Channel Tuesday. ‘She was in the U.S. Senate. They debate there all the time. Remember, she was a prosecutor.’
Biden himself shouted: ‘I think she’ll do well,’ as he entered Wilmington’s Queen theater on Wednesday to tape digital content for the campaign.
With the Trump campaign taking on water, Pence’s job Wednesday night will be to keep things afloat.
Kingsbury Hall, at the University of Utah, is decorated with banners prior to Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate, which will take place inside the building
Four years ago, the Trump campaign was in similar peril when Pence (right) debated Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine (left). Pence was largely believed to have won that debate, at least stylistically
Pence, however, has been here before.
When he debated Kaine four years ago, the BBC reported that Pence’s ‘only job – was to stop the bleeding and give the campaign an opportunity to regroup.’
While the veep debate was held three days before the ‘Access Hollywood’ ‘grab ’em by the p****’ tape was released, Trump’s campaign was already hobbled by the now president’s initial debate performance and a New York Times story detailing his massive business losses, which allowed him to write off income taxes for years.
Before Friday’s shock coronavirus diagnosis, reviews of Trump’s Tuesday night debate performance were that it was ‘belligerent,’ ‘aggressive’ and ‘violent.’ And then there was the September 27 New York Times story that revealed he had paid just $750 in federal income taxes during his first year in office.
At the 2016 debate, held on October 4 at Longwood University in Virginia, Kaine made the same mistake as Trump in this year’s first debate – he came in too hot.
Kaine frequently interrupted Pence, who deployed a steady-as-he-goes approach.
As Pence would unfold an argument – such as tying Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, which in turn failed the Middle East and emboldened Russia, Kaine would try to poke him in the eye.
‘You guys love Russia,’ Kaine jumped in, talking over Pence. ‘You both have said Vladimir Putin is a better leader than the president,’ he charged.
Pence replied coolly, ‘I must have hit a nerve here.’
At another point, Kaine said to Pence: ‘You are Donald Trump’s apprentice.’
Pence had just tried to lay out an argument that Clinton was corrupt, suggesting she and former President Bill Clinton used the Clinton Foundation in a pay-to-play scheme while she was serving as secretary of state.
‘There’s a reason why people question the trustworthiness of Hillary Clinton,’ Pence said. ‘And that’s because they’re paying attention.’
Harris will have the benefit of being able to study Pence’s face-off with Kaine for her own preparation.
She’s reportedly been working with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, acting as Pence, for debate prep, however the Biden campaign wouldn’t confirm that detail on the Wednesday morning call.
Buttigieg, during a Fox News Channel appearance, said he wouldn’t ‘get into any behind-the-scenes stuff’ when asked if he played Pence in mock debate.
Buttigieg, like Booker, ran against both Harris and Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 2020 Democratic primaries.
Additionally on Wednesday, the Biden campaign expressed confidence in the Cleveland Clinic, which is handling health and safety meaures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the debates.
The Biden campaign had been amenable to erecting a plexiglass safety shield between the two candidates after this week’s White House coronavirus outbreak, while Pence’s team was not.
Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short made that abundantly clear when told The Washington Post that barriers weren’t necessary, as the candidates will already be 12.25 feet away from one another.
‘If she wants it, she’s more than welcome to surround herself with plexiglass if that makes her feel more comfortable,’ Short told The Washington Post on Tuesday. ‘It’s not needed.’
Pence had traveled to Salt Lake City Monday in advance of his doctor releasing a statement explaining why the vice president was cleared to go after appearing at events where officials have since tested positive – including the September 26 Rose Garden ceremony where Trump announced his selection of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court.
He also appeared at an event Sunday for Gold Star families where at least one individual tested positive.
‘Vice President Mike Pence is not a close contact with any individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, including President Donald J. Trump and senior members of the White House administration, according to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control.’
‘Vice President Mike Pence is encouraged to go about his normal activities and does not need to quarantine,’ Pence’s physician, Dr Jesse Schonau, said.
South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison brought his own plexiglass set-up when he debated Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham Saturday on the heels of President Donald Trump and several Senate Republican testing positive for the virus
That statement was followed up later Tuesday by a memo signed by Redfield who explained that a ‘close contact’ is ‘any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes from 2 days before illness onset until the time the patient is isolated as defined by CDC guidance’.
Pence is being tested using both antigen tests and the more accurate PCR tests, his doctor also said.
Harris’ spokesperson Sabrina Singh used Pence’s resistance to make a political point.
‘If the Trump administration’s war on masks has now become a war on safety shields, that tells you everything you need to know about why their COVID response is a failure,’ Singh told DailyMail.com in a statement.
Plexiglass has been used at several other debates during the COVID era thus far – most memorably when Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison brought his own plexiglass set-up with him to the South Carolina debate against Sen Lindsey Graham Saturday, which took place after Trump was deemed positive.
A number of Senate Republicans have tested positive too.
‘Tonight I am taking this seriously,’ Harrison said. ‘That’s why I put this plexiglass up. Because it’s not just about me – it’s about the people in my life that I have to take care of as well. My two boys, my wife, my grandmother.’