Utah VP debate going forward even as University of Michigan pulls out of presidential forum

(Patrick Semansky | AP file photo) In this March 29, 2020, file photo, Vice President Mike Pence arrives at a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.

Washington • The Utah Debate Commission is still planning to host the vice presidential debate in October at the University of Utah — though with a socially distanced audience and perhaps other health care measures, the commission’s co-chairman Wayne Niederhauser said Tuesday.

Niederhauser, a former state Senate president, said there hasn't been any change to the debate plans other than discussion of some new health care procedures even after another university dropped out of hosting a presidential debate amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of Michigan said Monday it was withdrawing from hosting one of three scheduled presidential debates out of concern about the outbreak's impact on its students and staff.

“Given the scale and complexity of the work we are undertaking to help assure a safe and healthy fall for our students, faculty and staff and limited visitors — and in consideration of the public health guidelines in our state as well as advice from our own experts — we feel it is not feasible for us to safely host the presidential debate as planned,” University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said in a letter sent to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which organizes the much-watched forums with the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees and their running mates.

The Detroit Free Press first reported the withdrawal.

That commission announced last year the University of Utah would host the Oct. 7 debate between Vice President Mike Pence and whomever presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden picks as his running mate. The Utah Legislature had appropriated $2.5 million toward the event.

Niederhauser said Tuesday the Utah debate may be “very limited on actual people in the facility at this point,” and social distancing would be mandatory.

The debate will be held at Kingsbury Hall.