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Trump threatens to move RNC without assurances from Cooper

Posted May 25, 2020 10:17 a.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2020 12:05 a.m. EDT

— President Donald Trump threatened Monday to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if the state's Democratic governor doesn't immediately sign off on allowing a full-capacity gathering in August despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Trump's tweets about the RNC, planned for Charlotte, come just two days after North Carolina recorded its largest daily increase in new virus cases to date.

On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper moved the state into a second phase of gradual reopening by loosening restrictions on hair salons, barbers and restaurants. But he said the state must continue to closely watch virus trends and has ordered indoor entertainment venues, gyms and bars to remain closed for several more weeks.

“Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed... full attendance in the Arena,” Trump tweeted Monday.

He added that Republicans “must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced...to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”

Cooper spokeswoman Dory MacMillan said that state health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention.

"North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state's public health and safety," MacMillan said in an email.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles agreed that any decision must be based on health data and trends.

"With the health and safety of our residents and visitors being the top priority, the city of Charlotte will continue to follow guidance from Governor Cooper and public health professionals in determining the best and safest way to host the Republican National Convention," Lyles said in a statement. "While I've remained consistent in my statements regarding the RNC being held in Charlotte, the science and data will ultimately determine what we will collectively do for our city."

David McLennan, political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, said it would be difficult for the convention to pull out at this point, noting that the Republican National Committee has already signed multimillion-dollar contracts with Charlotte to stage the event. The security contract alone is worth $50 million, he noted.

"This is Trump being Trump," McLennan said. "He’s shifting the focus away from the coronavirus deaths, away from his golf experience this weekend, away from anything that could be considered problematic for him and making it someone else’s problem."

In an interview Monday on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” Vice President Mike Pence noted convention planning takes months and praised the reopening strides made by Texas, Florida and Georgia – all states with Republican governors.

“What you hear the president saying today is just a very reasonable request of the governor of North Carolina. We all want to be in Charlotte. We love North Carolina," Pence said. "But having a sense now is absolutely essential because of the immense preparations that are involved, and we look forward to working with Governor Cooper, getting a swift response and, if needs be, if needs be, moving the national convention to a state that is farther along on reopening and can say with confidence that we can gather there.”

A week ago, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel asserted on a call with reporters that the convention slated for Aug. 24-27 would be held at least partly in person. She said the party enlisted a medical adviser and was consulting with the Charlotte mayor and the governor.

"The RNC wants to hold a full in-person convention in Charlotte, but we need the governor to provide assurances that it can occur," an RNC spokesperson said in a statement Monday. "We will need some answers sooner rather than later, or we will be forced to consider other options.”"

During a Charlotte-area visit last week, a top Trump administration health official sounded less certain about a full convention, regardless of location.

Asked about preparations to safely host the RNC, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said increasing testing capacity is important. However, he did not refer to a traditional in-person convention as a certainty, but rather noted that “we’re several months away from the possibility of the RNC.”

Azar also praised Cooper's moves to reopen the state.

"I don’t see the president as pressuring the RNC to pull it right now," McLennan said. "But if he starts seeing a lot of support for that idea – from his base, from his donors – it may cause him to pressure the RNC to make that decision."

Before Monday, Cooper and Trump had yet to publicly spar during the pandemic. While Cooper has urged the federal government to help North Carolina get more testing supplies and protective gear, he's avoided criticizing Trump by name. Trump, meanwhile, has largely refrained from calling out Cooper as he has other Democratic governors.

Cooper, who narrowly beat an incumbent Republican in 2016 while Trump won the state, faces a challenge in November's gubernatorial race from Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who has urged a faster reopening of state businesses.

Mecklenburg County and Charlotte officials issued a joint statement that they "will continue to plan for the [convention] while respecting national and state guidance regarding the pandemic." The city and county governments expect to issue guidelines in June for the convention and other large events planned for Charlotte in the coming months.

"[Trump] says he’s got other cities lined up, but the governor has stayed on his time schedule, and the governor said Phase 2 could be the end of June before a decision is reached," McLennan said. "I suspect that Charlotte and the RNC will continue working toward preparing for the convention."

The North Carolina Republican Party didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the president's tweets.

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