Cooper: 'Very unlikely' Republicans can hold convention as planned in Charlotte

Posted June 2, 2020 1:07 p.m. EDT
Updated June 2, 2020 7:22 p.m. EDT

After a week of back-and-forth between North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and national Republican leaders about plans for the party nominating convention, Cooper on Tuesday wrote that the convention as planned – with large crowds and tens of thousands in attendance in Charlotte – "is very unlikely."

"With the Nation, the State of North Carolina and the City of Charlotte still under states of emergency it's important to conduct the RNC convention accordingly. As much as we want the conditions surrounding COVID-19 to be favorable enough for you to hold the Convention you describe in late August, it is very unlikely. Neither public health officials nor I will risk the health and safety of North Carolinians by providing the guarantee you seek," Cooper wrote to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Republican National Convention President and CEO Marcia Lee Kelly.

Pres. Donald J. Trump threatened last week to pull the convention from Charlotte if Cooper could not guarantee "full attendance."

Michael Whatley, state GOP chair, criticized Cooper for not being willing to give the RNC the guarantees it wants to keep the convention in Charlotte, pointing out that the event could bring $150 million to $200 million to the area.  

"This is an economic shot in the arm that we desperately need in North Carolina," he said. "This is money that will create jobs and jobs in the hospitality industry restaurants and bars and small businesses across the economy."

Cooper has not ruled out the convention, but said he can't promise a full arena at the end of August.

"That’s the prudent thing to do. That’s the thing that protects the health and safety of North Carolinians, and anywhere they would go, you really don’t know exactly where COVID-19 is going to be in that particular place at the end of August," he said.

Whatley said the RNC has its own safety plans, including temperature screenings, testing and sanitizer. He doesn't think distancing or masks are necessary. 

"The president and the RNC are fully committed to moving forward with a full-scale convention that will be safe," he said.

Kelly spoke Friday with North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen. A person familiar with the call told CNN that Kelly outlined a range of options for the Republican convention in August – "from a full in-person convention to a virtual or online convention."

The convention was expected to draw an estimated 50,000 people to Charlotte's Spectrum Center, home of the NBA Hornets.

All major organizations, from the Hornets to the Carolina Panthers to NASCAR, have been asked to submit plans to the state for a return to large-scale events. The Republican convention has not yet submitted its own plan for how the gathering, set for August 24-27, would be held safely.

Changing sites would be difficult for reasons including the contract between GOP officials and Charlotte leaders to hold the convention there. In April, the City Council voted to accept a $50 million federal grant for convention security. Before the vote, City Attorney Patrick Baker noted the overall contract requires parties to follow applicable laws and regulations, including Cooper’s executive orders. Cooper’s current order limits indoor gatherings to 10 people. Baker said then that GOP officials had discussed convention alternatives but did not elaborate.

As recently as last month, McDaniel vowed on a call with reporters that the convention slated for Aug. 24-27 would be held at least partly in person.