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Trump says he’ll pull GOP convention unless N.C. commits to ‘full attendance’ despite coronavirus

President Trump with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper
President Trump participates in a briefing about Hurricane Dorian with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, left, aboard Air Force One in September 2019.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump threatened Monday to move the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if its Democratic governor doesn’t immediately guarantee party members can fill a Charlotte arena in August, though the state’s coronavirus outbreak is far from contained.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday loosened restrictions on hair salons, barbershops and restaurants, but larger venues such as gyms, bars, concert halls and arenas remain closed. The governor, who is up for reelection in November, has continued to limit public gatherings to no more than 10 people.

The Spectrum Center arena in Charlotte, which hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012, can hold roughly 20,000 people at capacity, and the Republican convention was expected to draw about 50,000 people to Charlotte.

“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.

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

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Trump’s threat was just his latest broadside against a Democratic governor for not easing public health guidelines as quickly as he would like, and it came on an especially somber Memorial Day as the nation neared a grim milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 deaths. The president has repeatedly politicized the issue even as he’s left much of the responsibility for states’ responses to the pandemic to local officials.

His criticism, in a series of tweets, also came just two days after North Carolina saw its largest one-day increase in new cases — 1,100 — a troubling reality acknowledged by his own coronavirus-response coordinator. On Monday, nearly 750 new cases were reported by afternoon, sending the state’s total reported cases of infection past 24,000. The president has tried to paper over such data with sunny assertions, including a weekend tweet declaring falsely, “Cases, numbers and deaths are going down all over the Country!”

After returning from an event marking Memorial Day in Baltimore, Trump blasted a report by the New York Times that he had floated moving the Republican convention to Florida, although the element he specifically denied — that he was considering Doral, the Miami resort that he owns — wasn’t mentioned in the Times’ report. Before the pandemic, he’d proposed hosting this year’s Group of 7 summit at Doral before giving in to a backlash over steering official business to his private property.

In another tweet, Trump said he had “zero interest” in relocating the convention to Doral, noting that its ballroom “is not nearly big enough.” He added that he “would like to stay in N.C., whose gov. doesn’t even know if he can let people in?”

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Cooper’s office said that it remains engaged with state health officials and the RNC about plans for the August event.

“State health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte,” said Dory MacMillan, Cooper’s press secretary. “North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.”

Trump, who has been eager to focus on a reelection campaign that has been largely on hold for two months, is determined to hold a traditional nominating convention, complete with the usual made-for-TV pageantry, speeches and raucous, adoring crowds packed into an arena.

Democrats early on delayed their scheduled convention in Milwaukee from July to a tentative date in August and have opened the door to the possibility of a scaled-down event there, or even a virtual convention.

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Vice President Mike Pence, during an interview on Fox News Channel, called Trump’s demand for a green light on the August convention a “reasonable request.” Given the time needed to prepare the convention site and to arrange hotel rooms, transportation and other logistical considerations, any decision to change locations has to be made very soon, he said.

Pence suggested Florida, Georgia and Texas as possible alternative sites. All three have Republican governors loyal to Trump who’ve moved faster than most to loosen restrictions on residents and businesses, and without satisfying the conditions for reopening recommended by the president’s public-health advisors.

“We look forward to working with Gov. 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,” Pence said.

Even at this point, changing locations for the convention would be difficult. Charlotte has already accepted millions of dollars in federal grants to cover security costs for the convention. But under the contract between the city and the RNC, all parties involved remain subject to the governor’s orders.


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