President Trump said Tuesday that he needs a guarantee from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper “within a week” that the state can hold a large in-person convention amid the coronavirus pandemic or he will move the gathering elsewhere.
Trump ramped up his ultimatum to the Democratic governor and threatened to break the Republican National Committee’s contract with Charlotte as two Republican governors seized on Trump’s moves to offer their states as alternative venues.
“We have a governor that doesn’t want to open up the state and we have a date of . . . the end of August,” Trump told reporters at the White House, a day after tweeting his threat to pull the convention. “And we have to know before we spend millions and millions of dollars on an arena to make it magnificent for the convention. . . . If the governor can’t tell us very soon, unfortunately, we’ll have no choice.”
Cooper, who has followed federal health guidelines in a phased reopening of his state, had told reporters earlier in the day that the health and safety of his citizens were paramount as North Carolina plans for the Aug. 24-27 event.
“It’s okay for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be,” Cooper said Tuesday afternoon at a news conference in which Trump’s demands came up repeatedly. “Already we’ve been in talks with the RNC about the kind of convention that they would need to run and the kind of options that we need on the table.”
The fate of the quadrennial political event has been a focus for Trump, who thrives at massive rallies and is said to miss campaigning with crowds. He has repeatedly said he wants to go forward with a traditional large-scale event, while Democrats are openly contemplating a significantly scaled-back version of the meeting to avoid the health risks posed by the pandemic.
Cooper said Tuesday that he wants the RNC to present a menu of written options for how the convention would safely go forward amid a pandemic, saying the state has been holding similar conversations with its sports teams.
“We have to take some steps to make sure that people are protected because this virus is still going to be with us in August and we’re going to have to take steps to protect people,” he said.
Trump said late Tuesday that he wants an answer from Cooper soon.
“I would say within a week that certainly we have to know. Now, if he can’t do it, if he feels that he’s not going to do it, all he has to do is tell us and then we’ll have to pick another location,” the president said.
Trump’s advisers were caught off guard by his Monday tweets threatening to pull the convention, as the RNC wants to have the convention in North Carolina and had been negotiating with state officials, according to a person familiar with the convention strategy who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.
In a Friday call with North Carolina officials, the RNC discussed holding a limited convention to accommodate safety concerns, according to an official familiar with the conversation. The call also included discussion about going forward with the original 50,000-person gathering but didn’t involve any talk about moving the nominating event as Trump has threatened, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations.
Participants in the call included Cooper, RNC Convention CEO Marcia Kelly, and North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.
Michael Reed, an RNC spokesman, offered the same response the organization issued Monday when Trump tweeted his threat, saying that “we will need some answers sooner rather than later, or we will be forced to consider other options.” Reed said the RNC is not considering a virtual convention.
Some local North Carolina officials welcomed the idea of the moving the convention, which is already a polarizing event in the Democratic-led city of Charlotte.
“If the president would like to find another location, I would say, ‘Bless his heart,’ ” said Dimple Tansen Ajmera, an at-large member of the Charlotte City Council. She added that Trump’s threat seems empty, given that her city has already spent two years planning for the convention.
Trump’s threat to pull the event was an opening for two Republican governors — Georgia’s Brian Kemp and Florida’s Ron DeSantis — to roll out the welcome mat. It was unclear how they might logistically put together a convention in just three months while convincing some Democratic-run cities to open to tens of thousands of people.
“Florida would love to have the RNC,” DeSantis said during a news conference Tuesday morning. “If we can get that done and do it in a way that’s safe, that would be a huge economic impact for the state of Florida.”
Though DeSantis said he hasn’t spoken directly to Trump about hosting the convention, he said there have been staff-level conversations. “We’ve let the folks at the White House know that we want to work with him,” DeSantis said, naming Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville as potential new locations.
“The good thing about it is they’ve already raised a lot of money for this already thinking it was going to be in North Carolina,” DeSantis said. “So if you have a Florida committee, and it ends up in Florida, a lot of that work in terms of raising the funds has already been done. So it would kind of be a plug-and-play thing.”
Kemp on Tuesday indicated that his state would be an appropriate alternative for the meeting.
“With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention,” Kemp tweeted. “We hope you will consider the Peach State, @realdonaldtrump!”
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.
President Trump on Monday threatened to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina. Former vice president Joe Biden is more popular than Trump with seniors, a group that could be key in swing states in November.
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