Trump, Cooper spar over GOP convention crowd size

Posted May 26, 2020 5:10 p.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2020 10:42 p.m. EDT

— After President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that the Republican National Convention should pull out of Charlotte this August unless state officials could quickly guarantee the arena could operate at full capacity despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, state health officials told convention organizers they need to provide a written safety plan.

Trump tweeted that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper "is still in Shutdown mood," and he demanded an immediate answer regarding how many people will be allowed to gather at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. If it isn't full capacity, he said, "we will be reluctantly forced ... to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site."

North Carolina moved last Friday into the second part of a three-phase plan to resume business and social activities during the pandemic. But indoor gatherings remain capped at 10 people.

Nearly 50,000 people are expected for the convention during the week of Aug. 24.

After the tweets, Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, wrote to convention president Marcia Kelly and said the GOP needs to draft several scenarios that could work as the pandemic evolves over the next three months.

"The status of COVID-19 infections in our state and in the Charlotte area continues to rapidly evolve, thus, it will be important to have several scenarios planned that can be deployed depending on the public health situation," Cohen wrote.

She noted that NASCAR was able to hold a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the weekend by devising such a plan and working with public health officials to refine it.

"A written plan provides a necessary and valuable starting point to planning discussions with our public health teams at the county and state levels," Cohen wrote, adding that "the RNC convention is obviously a very different event with its unique challenges for COVID-19."

Cooper said Tuesday that he cannot guarantee how the outbreak will change over three months, but his administration is continuing to work with GOP officials to look at their options.

"It’s OK for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be," the governor said, noting that public health and safety remains his top concern and that the state will base its decisions on that.

"These are the same kind of conversations that we’re having with the Carolina Panthers, the Charlotte Hornets, other large arena owners," he said. "Everyone wants to get back to action soon, but I think everybody knows that we have to take some steps that people are protected because this virus is still going to be with us in August."

Trump said Tuesday afternoon that he wants to know within the next week if North Carolina officials will allow a capacity audience in Charlotte for the convention.

"If he can't do it, if he feels he can't do it, all he has to do is tell us, and then we'll have to pick another location," he said. "I don't want to have it where we get there and they announce ... 'Guess what? You can't put anybody in the arena,' or you can put a tiny number of people in."

Gov. Ron De Santis of Florida and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, both Republicans, said Tuesday that their states would welcome the convention if it's moved out of North Carolina. But Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said her city wouldn't be able to host the convention this summer.

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