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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Pence Used Plexiglas Banners to Distinguish the Press from the Audience

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MINNEAPOLIS — Vice President Mike Pence agreed Monday night to use Plexiglas barriers, which had been intended to shield his Secret Service detail, to separate the media from the audience in one of the upcoming presidential debates.

It was a remarkable about-face for a vice president who has been on the front lines of the battle over the media at every public appearance. In a speech last week, Mr. Pence argued that Mr. Trump’s rallies, which sometimes have turned into finger-pointing contests between supporters and reporters, set a standard the press should follow, while Mr. Trump, he said, had set one of friendship.

At a campaign rally here over the weekend, Mr. Pence told supporters: “I want you to focus on the kind of campaign that Donald Trump and I have going. We have a much lower bar.”

His conciliatory approach came as both Mr. Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton warned supporters over the weekend about the dangers of being a reporter at a Trump rally.

In Minnesota on Monday, Mr. Pence arrived at the debate site, a campus complex in St. Paul, at about 5:30 p.m. (Just before 6 p.m., a teary-eyed Mr. Pence returned to the hangar to take the stage, wearing a suit and tie). Just before 6 p.m., he shook hands with television commentators and Minnesota politicians, including Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, while a receptionist in the campaign’s headquarters shuttled him from an elevator to a floor away from the debate venue.

There, in the cavernous gymnasium, roughly a dozen glass barriers had been set up in front of the stage. A contingent of Secret Service agents had begun screening the area for media by shielding them from the public. The vice president then gathered with his staff and Mr. Trump’s team at the podium and engaged in a brief discussion about whether to use the barriers.

A Trump team spokesman, Jason Miller, said they accepted Mr. Pence’s request and that the vice president would use them.

Mr. Pence, a former congressman, has long sought to draw media attention in ways that he has criticized journalists for not doing. In 2004, when he was running for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, Mr. Pence complained about free publicity at a news conference.

“I think people are just amazed by just how good a spokesman the media is for all the parties and the issues,” he said. “And yet we’re greeted in almost every town and city with the unbelievable intrusion of a reporter.”

But Mr. Pence’s actions in Minneapolis were likely his most extraordinary display of televised concern with the news media.

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