In what is sadly still a rarity in American politics, a whopping two very impressive women will be playing key roles in this week's vice presidential debate (opens in new tab). Across from current Vice President Mike Pence onstage in the University of Utah's Kingsbury Hall, of course, will be Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's running mate and only the third female vice presidential candidate on a major party's ticket. And moderating the two VP contenders' debate will be Susan Page, the current Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
Page is just about the most qualified person on the planet to moderate the debate: Throughout her decades-long career, she has covered (opens in new tab) 10 presidential elections and six White House administrations, and has sat down for interviews with the last 9 presidents. Here's everything else you need to know about the award-winning journalist before she takes the stage in Salt Lake City on Oct. 7.
Where has Susan Page worked?
Page has been on the USA Today staff for a quarter of a century. The Wichita, Kansas, native was hired in 1995 as a White House correspondent before taking on her current role as chief of the news outlet's Washington, D.C., bureau in 2000. Prior to this, she spent several years as a White House correspondent for Newsday in the early '90s. You've probably also seen her offering political insights as a guest on shows like PBS NewsHour, Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, CBS This Morning, and more.
Elsewhere in the world of political journalism, Page spent a term as president of the historic Gridiron Club for D.C.-based journalists in 2011, and also helmed the White House Correspondents Association in 2000. She has been selected as a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes twice and served as chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards.
As if her resume wasn't already stacked enough, Page also published (opens in new tab) a New York Times-bestselling biography of Barbara Bush, The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty, and is currently working on a biography of Nancy Pelosi, slated to be released in early 2021.
Has she won any awards for her work?
She has, indeed. Most significantly, Page has been awarded all three (opens in new tab) of the major prizes for reporting on the White House: the White House Correspondents Association's Aldo Beckman Award, the association's Merriman Smith Memorial Award for Deadline Reporting on the Presidency, and the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency, which she's won twice. No big deal.
What was the reaction to Susan Page's selection as debate moderator?
Mixed. While many praised her journalistic bonafides and, specifically, her decades of experience covering the White House, others called for her to step down as moderator after a Congressional report released in early September revealed that she had hosted a taxpayer-funded party in 2018 to celebrate Seema Verma's nomination by President Donald Trump to serve as head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Page has not responded to criticisms that the "Girls' Night Out" event constituted a conflict of interest, but her employer quickly released a statement (opens in new tab) in her defense. According to USA Today spokesperson Chrissy Terrell, Page paid many of the event's costs out of her own pocket and was unaware CMS was billed for the event, which, per Terrell, was one of many similar get-togethers "routinely hosted" by female journalists to "honor significant accomplishments of both Democratic and Republican women."
How is she preparing to moderate the VP debate?
After many viewers found Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace's performance as moderator of the first presidential debate frustrating, to say the least (opens in new tab), the pressure is on for Page to do a much better job of maintaining control of the conversation—even if the bar has been set very, very low. To prepare, "I've tried to really think through what would be an approach that would work to keep the debate on track," she told USA Today (opens in new tab), adding that Wallace's showing hasn't changed her game plan, but "reinforced the idea that this is an event for which you have to be very, very prepared."
Part of her preparation has included choosing the nine topics that Harris and Pence will debate. "If you like it, that'll be great. But if you don't like it, I'll be the person to blame," she said of this "awesome responsibility."
Above all, Page's "North Star" in planning for conversation topics, abrupt interruptions, and unplanned detours is the idea that the debate is, at its core, "a chance for American voters to take a look at these two candidates and see both what they think of them personally and what they think about their policy ideas."
Andrea Park is a Chicago-based writer and reporter with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the extended Kardashian-Jenner kingdom, early 2000s rom-coms and celebrity book club selections. She graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2017 and has also written for W, Brides, Glamour, Women's Health, People and more.
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