Trump calls Cooper, asks for full GOP convention with no social distancing or masks
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - President Donald Trump called North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Friday, asking him to allow the GOP convention to go on as planned in Charlotte with no social distancing and no masks.
The call came the same day N.C. health officials pressed Republican leaders for more detail on how they’d keep visitors and the city safe at this summer’s GOP National Convention. The two sides face what Republican leaders say is a Wednesday deadline to keep the convention in Charlotte.
“When the President insisted on a full convention arena with no face coverings and no social distancing the Governor expressed concerns and suggested a scaled back event with fewer attendees,” Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a text Saturday. “They agreed to continue talking about ways to have a safe convention in Charlotte.”
Earlier Friday, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen asked convention officials how many people were expected each night of the convention in Charlotte’s Spectrum Center and whether they would be socially distanced. She also asked whether they have a plan for masks, social distancing and other safety measures at the hundreds of parties and events surrounding the convention.
The Republican response could determine whether the convention, two years in the planning, will stay in Charlotte or go elsewhere. For now it’s scheduled to begin Aug. 24 at the Spectrum Center. Organizers plan to start a major renovation of the arena in mid-July.
Cohen wrote to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and convention CEO Marcia Lee Kelly following their letter Thursday night to Cooper, a Democrat, describing their proposals to ensure the safety of convention-goers.
McDaniel and Kelly set a June 3 deadline for Cooper to offer safety guidelines. They said “time is of the essence.”
“What we have asked from your governor and the elected officials is, give us the guidelines by which we can conduct our convention,” McDaniel told former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on his radio show Friday.
“What we keep getting back is, ‘You need to submit your plan.’ We put together some of the things we’re considering, but again, it’s hard to really create a plan when we don’t have guidelines. . . We’re still hoping to make it work, but we’re not going to wait indefinitely.”
PRESSING FOR A FULL HOUSE
In their letter to Cooper, McDaniel and Kelly outlined eight specific safety measures.
They included thermal scans of convention participants prior to boarding buses, a “clean health check” for everybody entering the Spectrum Center, widely available hand sanitizer and daily health questionnaires of participants delivered via apps. They do not include social distancing or masks.
The GOP leaders also said they’re continuing to plan for a full convention, saying “RNC rules require delegates, alternates, elected officials, guests and media.”
As many as 50,000 people had been expected to converge on the city, though that number is now expected to be lower.
In her response, Cohen asked convention officials how many people would be in the arena on each of the event’s four scheduled nights. She alluded to a Tuesday phone call with GOP officials where they “indicated a desire from President Trump to hold Thursday’s nomination event with ‘people together in a crowd-like setting’ and without social distancing or face coverings for attendees.” She asked if that was still their intent.
Cohen asked how people who failed to pass health screening would be isolated. And citing evidence of asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus, she wanted to know how the RNC planned to deal with that.
The secretary also alluded to the fact that North Carolina recently saw its highest one-day total of new confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“The status of COVID-19 infections in our state and in the Charlotte area continues to rapidly evolve,” she wrote, “thus, it will be important to have several scenarios planned that can be deployed depending on the public health situation.”
CONVENTION ‘UNDER A CLOUD’
On Monday Trump threatened to move the convention if Cooper couldn’t guarantee that the GOP could fill the arena.
“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.
On Tuesday he escalated his threats, saying he needed a decision from Cooper “within a week” as to whether the convention can go forward as planned.
Cooper has been gradually easing restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state had asked convention organizers to provide written plans about how they would ensure the health of delegates and other guests.
“We’re not going to sacrifice the health and safety of North Carolinians,” Cooper told reporters Tuesday. “That’s the bottom line.”
The governor pointed to plans submitted by NASCAR prior to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Sunday. The race played before empty grandstands. NASCAR gave the state a detailed, 37-page plan for dealing with the pandemic and a separate, 13-page plan for the race in Charlotte.
“We know that it is possible to have a large-scale event during these trying times,” Cohen wrote Friday. “We shared with . . . Kelly a plan submitted by NASCAR that our public health team was able to review and provide feedback on, which resulted in a successful Memorial Day race.”
Officials from Florida, Georgia and Texas have expressed interest in holding the event if it moves out of Charlotte.
Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs, one of two Republicans on the council, said the GOP response probably didn’t go far enough.
“I think we’re trying to close the gap … I’m not sure we’re there yet,” he said Friday. “My hope is that we’ll see some convergence. . . It’s sad that this thing we’ve been working on for two years, and been looking forward to celebrating, is now under a cloud because of these disputes over health safety.”