CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday dismissed President Donald Trump’s tweets threatening to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte.
"I'm not surprised by anything I see on Twitter," Cooper said. "It's OK for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be."
The governor said state health officials will continue to work with convention organizers to draft guidelines that will ensure the event can be conducted safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I supported having the convention in North Carolina. But we have to put the health and safety of North Carolinians as the guiding star in this process, and we hope to continue the discussions and look forward to those discussions with the RNC later on this weekend and into next week,” he later added.
For months, Republican leaders’ public posture has been that the party’s national convention, where Trump will be formally nominated in August, is “full steam ahead.” But on Memorial Day, the president appeared to hamstring convention planning by threatening to pull the event from Charlotte because of the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions.
In a series of tweets Monday morning, the president threatened to pull the event out of North Carolina if Gov. Roy Cooper doesn’t immediately sign off on allowing a full-capacity gathering in August, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump’s tweets Monday came just two days after the state recorded its largest daily increase in positive cases yet. Currently, mass gatherings at venues like arenas are prohibited as part of Cooper’s executive order because of the potential spread of the novel coronavirus.
The RNC is set for Aug. 24 through Aug. 27 at the Spectrum Center and Charlotte Convention Center. Trump expressed his concern about spending millions of dollars without knowing if the state would allow them to fully occupy the space.
“Plans are being made by thousands of enthusiastic Republicans and others to head to beautiful North Carolina in August,” Trump said. “They must be immediately given an answer by the governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied.”
Trump said if he is not given an answer, he will find another location for the convention.
“This is not something I want to do,” Trump said. “Thank you, and I love the people of North Carolina.”
Cooper allowed the state to enter a second phase of gradual reopening Friday with some further loosening of restrictions on hair salons, barbers and restaurants. But he said the state must continue to closely watch virus trends and has ordered entertainment venues, gyms and bars to remain closed.
On Monday, Cooper responded to Trump’s tweet, saying, “State health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plan as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte. North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.”
Cooper warned on Tuesday that it is still too early to give the president the assurances he demanded about “whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied.”
“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. We’re talking about something that’s going to happen three months from now, and we don’t know what our situation is going to be regarding COVID-19 in North Carolina,” he said.
On Monday, Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte released a joint statement, saying, “We are in constant communication with our local and federal counterparts to plan and prepare for a safe Republican National Convention (RNC). The City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and other local stakeholders will continue to plan for the RNC while respecting national and state guidance regarding the pandemic. We are working with stakeholders to develop guidelines for several large events planned for Charlotte in the coming months including the RNC and anticipate providing that guidance in June.”
Charlotte mayor Vi Lyles tweeted, “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. 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.”
Meanwhile, two GOP governors on Tuesday offered up their states to host the Republican National Convention. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sent an open plea to Trump on Tuesday to consider his state as an alternate site. Kemp’s offer was followed by one from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The convention is expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors to the Charlotte area and millions of dollars to the local economy.
In a letter that North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen sent to the RNC, she requested a written plan for how the convention plans to address COVID-19 safety protocols. The letter comes in response to the president’s tweet on Monday, and confirms that the RNC and state officials in North Carolina were in talks about convention planning as recent as Friday.
“Jordan Whichard from Governor Cooper’s team shared with you the written protocols that NASCAR developed and then refined after discussions with our public health teams which allowed that event to occur in the Charlotte area this past weekend,” she wrote. “While the RNC convention is obviously a very different event with its unique challenges for COVID-19, we hoped it would help illustrate the type of plan that would facilitate further conversations. The status of COVID-19 infections in our state and in the Charlotte area continues to rapidly evolve, thus, it will be important to have several scenarios planned that can be deployed depending on the public health situation."
Cohen urged the RNC to consider “several scenarios” as they continue to move forward with planning, since the abrupt threat from Trump comes just after North Carolina saw its highest one-day spike in cases over the weekend since the onset of the pandemic.
Cooper referenced the letter during Tuesday’s briefing, saying he aims to reach a resolution with the RNC about how to move forward with the event.
“We’re going to have to take steps to protect people. We have asked the RNC to present to us in writing their proposals. We’ve had discussions with them about a very limited convention all the way up, and we want to see in writing what their plans are,” he said.
“We asked NASCAR to do the very same thing, and NASCAR did a good job this weekend of executing their plan,” he added. “We want to see from the RNC what their plans are, and we have asked them to submit those plans to our public health officials. They have someone hired to advise them as well. And we look forward to the back and forth on that. We’d like to reach a resolution that everybody can be reasonable about that puts public health, safety, the science and the facts as the number one thing we’re trying to do here. So we look forward to those continue conversations. Everyone wants to get back into action soon, but I think everyone knows that we have to take certain steps to make sure we’re protected."
After Cooper’s news conference, President Trump said the governor needs to say within a week whether the GOP convention in Charlotte can go forward.
“If he can’t do it, if he feels he can’t do it, all he has to do is tell us, and then we’ll have to pick another location,” Trump said of Cooper. “I don’t want to have it where we get there and they announce ... ‘Guess what? You can’t put anybody in the arena,’ or you can put a tiny number of people in.”
“This may be an attempt by the president to either force the governor’s hand," said political analyst Dr. Michael Bitzer. "Or it could be an attempt to start folks thinking about a virtual renomination convention. I don’t think anyone, including public health officials, knows what will happen in three months, so we are literally flying blind to this.”
Bitzer told Channel 9 the simple logistics of moving a convention of this size to another city is unheard of and we’ve not seen that happen before.
“Remember, in 2012 the RNC was dealing with a hurricane and they still had their convention in Florida, so I think the likelihood (that it will move) is highly suspect at this point but we just don’t know what the president will be thinking and what the reaction of the COVID, this novel coronavirus virus, will be as well in three months,” he said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned on Wednesday that we need to move cautiously when deciding to hold political conventions.
Fauci said we need to reserve judgment when it comes to holding political events, and that we need to see how things develop in the coming weeks and months. He added that packing a stadium full of people may not be the best decision.
“I mean, if we have a really significant diminution in the number of new cases and hospitalizations and we’re at a level where it is really very low, then, again, according to the guidelines, you may be able to go to whatever phase you’re in and have some sort of a capability of gathering,” Fauci said. “But I think we need to reserve judgment right now because we’re still a few months from there. Hopefully, we will see that diminution. If we don’t, then as I said before, I would have significant reservations about that.”
Channel 9′s government reporter Joe Bruno has been following announcements about the RNC since it was named the host city in 2018. He reported that Trump is not a party in the RNC 2020 contract -- it is an agreement between the city of Charlotte and the RNC Host Committee.
“The Republican National Convention, the Host committee, the CRVA, the city and the county, those are the parties that are actually a member of this particular agreement,” city attorney Patrick Baker said last year.
In addition, the Charlotte City Council voted to accept $50 million from the Department of Justice to cover security costs last month and the city has already spent millions to prepare for the convention.
The city of Charlotte did put a provision in their contract with the RNC saying if the $50 million from the DOJ didn’t come through, the city can cancel hosting. If the city cancels in that circumstance, the host committee would have to cover costs up to that point.
Joe reported that the GOP Convention CEO has been living in Charlotte and RNC leaders have an office in the NASCAR Tower. They have done walk-through’s, security training, credentials have been applied for and sources say the president has signed off on the stage set up for his acceptance speech.
Last July, some Charlotte city council members inquired about canceling the 2020 RNC after a “send her back” chant broke out during one of the president’s rallies in Greenville.
The council was told that the only way the RNC doesn’t happen in Charlotte is if either side breaches the contract.
Joe noted when the council was toying with the idea of whether they could walk away from the RNC last summer, UNCC professor Eric Heberlig, who has written books and extensively studied conventions, expressed doubt the RNC would be able to find a new venue a year out.
As of Monday morning, North Carolina was in Phase 2 of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This means indoor dining at restaurants, pools and personal care services could reopen but not without some changes such as limited capacity and strict safety guidelines.
It is unclear when we will be able to enter Phase 3 and what will be able to reopen in that phase.
>> We’ll bring you LIVE updates on Channel 9 Eyewitness News. Get extended coverage on the free WSOC Now app on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV.
In response to Trump’s tweet and warning, Sarah Reidy-Jones, the vice-chairman of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party issued the following statement:
“The Mecklenburg County Republican Party has been looking forward to serving as the host county for the 2020 Republican National Convention for over two years. We understood the economic boost to our local economy for the 2012 DNC and had looked forward to hosting the RNC in just 90 days. Now more than ever, we need the economic boost that this convention brings, especially to a hospitality industry that has been especially hard hit. Governor Cooper’s policies have been drastically devastating for North Carolinians, especially the 1 in 7 Charlotte residents that comprise of its hospitality sector. We strongly encourage Governor Cooper to put the good of the state’s economic recovery above any political posturing or personal feelings. We will pressure our local elected officials that do so much to try to harm our economic freedoms that originally made Charlotte and the metro region flourish and to those trying to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to interject dangerous policies that compromise our elections, our children’s educations and our livelihoods in the form of social experimenting.”
In addition to serving as vice-chair of the Mecklenburg County Republican Party, Reidy-Jones also serves as president of the Uptown Charlotte Republican Women and is one of three delegates to this summer’s RNC from Mecklenburg County.
She expects leaders will strike a deal to keep the RNC in town and is ready to follow any rules that must be in place in order for the event to happen in the Queen City.
“I’ll be ready to go, if that means I have to wear a fabulous elephant mask or whatever we end up doing,” Reidy-Jones said.
President Donald Trump is demanding assurances from North Carolina’s Democratic governor that the Republican National Convention can go forward in August despite coronavirus fears. This comes as at least one GOP governor began lobbying for the convention to move to his state.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sent an open plea to Trump Tuesday to consider his state as an alternate site for the quadrennial convention, which is set to gather more than 2,500 delegates and thousands more guests, press and security officials.
Plans have been underway for more than a year to host the convention in Charlotte, but Trump and national Republican officials have expressed concerns that local officials may not allow gatherings of that size amid the pandemic.
On Memorial Day morning, dozens of people protested in south Charlotte to reopen the state. The rally at Morrison Regional Library was one of several rallies in the state on Monday.
Participants pulled out of a parking lot for a driving-style rally around South Park. Organizers told Channel 9 the rally was in conjunction with the ReOpenNC movement across the state, and Monday’s rally was to serve two purposes.
First, it was a rally for Memorial Day, to honor those who have fought and died for our freedom. But organizers also said it was about fighting for freedom now, calling on the state to reopen more businesses.
They said 50% capacity isn't 100% freedom, and other businesses, like gyms and bars, should be able to open and allow people to follow social distancing and sanitation guidelines.
Those who rallied said it's about the ability to make their own choices.
Under Phase Two, restaurants, salons and barbershops, and pools can reopen at 50% capacity. Gyms, bars, playgrounds, and some other businesses remain closed.
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