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Trump demands Republican convention ‘with no masks or social distancing’ despite coronavirus pandemic

US president does not want to see signs of virus measures in his renomination audience, governor’s office says

Tom Embury-Dennis
Saturday 30 May 2020 15:32 BST
Trump avoids George Floyd riots at White House

Donald Trump is demanding a packed Republican national convention with “no face coverings and no social distancing”, North Carolina’s governor’s office has said.

The US president spoke with Democrat governor Roy Cooper by phone, the office revealed, where they discussed the scheduled August convention in Charlotte.

Mr Trump insisted on the lack of Covid-19 measures because he does not want to see signs of the pandemic in his renomination audience, a spokesperson for Mr Cooper said.

The president this week threatened to move his formal renomination elsewhere if he does not get guarantees by next week of being able to hold a large-scale event.

The convention, set to begin on 24 August, is supposed to have events in Charlotte’s downtown sports arena, capped by Mr Trump’s nomination speech three days later.

During the call, when Mr Trump “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”, spokesperson Sadie Weiner wrote in an email.

“They agreed to continue talking about ways to have a safe convention in Charlotte.”

The conversation came hours after Mr Cooper’s health secretary, Mandy Cohen, called for more specifics beyond the safety protocols the GOP convention’s leaders sent her in a letter on Thursday.

Mr Cooper’s administration has wanted more planning about public health and safety given the uncertainty Covid-19 has caused regarding commerce and movement restrictions.

Ms Cohen wrote to Republican National Committee chairperson Ronna McDaniel and convention chief Marcia Lee Kelly asking them to confirm whether Mr Trump wanted the convention’s final night to have “people together in a crowd-like setting” and without social distancing or face masks for participants.

Ms Cohen also wanted numbers on how many people would be inside the Spectrum Centre nightly, and how social distancing would occur there.

Ms Kelly and Ms McDaniel wrote that they needed further direction and assurances from him by next Wednesday to move forward on a convention they said would bring a massive economic boost to the city.

The Republican National Committee declined to comment on Friday night. Earlier Friday, Ms McDaniel told a Charlotte radio station it appeared Mr Cooper was dragging his feet on a decision and attributed it to a “little bit of gamesmanship” and politics. Mr Cooper is seeking re-election this autumn in a state the Republicans won in 2016.

“We are very happy for them to give us guidelines, but ultimately it’s going to come down to the elected officials to tell us how we can conduct our convention, and then we can plan,” Ms McDaniel told WBT. “We’re still hoping to make it work, but we’re not going to wait indefinitely.”

Mr Cooper suggested to reporters on Thursday that the state had no timeline. Florida and Georgia’s governors have said they’re interested in hosting the convention.

Right now, Mr Cooper’s Covid-19 executive order prevents mass indoor assemblies of more than 10 people, but that could change in the weeks leading up to the convention if case and hospitalisation numbers keep improving.

While Republicans offered on Thursday several proposed steps to screen and protect convention attendees’ health, it lacked a final safety plan – something Ms Cohen and Mr Cooper said they want, such as one that Nascar offered before racing last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, albeit with no fans.

Mr Cooper has gradually eased business restrictions in the state, with restaurants now allowed to offer limited indoor dining. But entertainment venues, bars and gyms remain closed.

Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, has by far the most Covid-19 cases in the state, with more than 3,800 cases as of Friday morning and roughly 90 deaths.

Additional reporting by AP

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