North Carolina says traditional Republican convention can't be held safely, angering Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Tuesday night that he is seeking a new state to host this summer's Republican National Convention, after North Carolina refused to guarantee the event could be held in Charlotte without restrictions due to the coronavirus.

Trump 'insisted on a full convention arena with no face coverings,' says N.C. official

In this photo from July 19, 2016, delegates fill the floor during the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said a traditional convention can't be held in 2020 due to coronavirus concerns. (Matt Roarke/The Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Tuesday night that he is seeking a new state to host this summer's Republican National Convention after North Carolina refused to guarantee the event could be held in Charlotte without restrictions because of ongoing concerns over the coronavirus.

Trump announced the news via tweet, complaining that the state's governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, and other officials "refuse to guarantee that we can have use of the Spectrum Arena" and were not "allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised."

Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC) had been demanding that the convention be allowed to move forward with a full crowd and no face coverings — raising alarms in a state that is facing an upward trend in its virus cases, with about 29,900 cumulative cases and 900 deaths as of Tuesday.

Around 700 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized. Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located, accounted for 4,500 cases — more than double the next-highest county — and nearly 100 deaths.

"We have been committed to a safe RNC convention in North Carolina and it's unfortunate they never agreed to scale down and make changes to keep people safe," Cooper tweeted in response to the decision. "Protecting public health and safety during this pandemic is a priority."

Event draws thousands

A traditional Republican convention brings together roughly 2,500 delegates, an equal number of alternate delegates and many times more guests, journalists and security personnel.

Officials in both parties have been preparing contingency plans for months given the uncertainty and dangers posed by the virus and evolving restrictions on large gatherings meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Trump's announcement came after a call with Cooper last week in which the president had told Cooper he wanted a traditional convention with a packed arena full of delegates — and with no face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During the call, when 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," Cooper spokesperson Sadie Weiner wrote in an email. "They agreed to continue talking about ways to have a safe convention in Charlotte."

But Cooper made clear to Trump that those conditions would likely be impossible to accommodate given the status of the epidemic in his state, and formalized that Tuesday in a letter to the RNC on the eve of a Wednesday deadline set by the GOP for assurances from Cooper that he would allow a full-scale event in August.

The convention is scheduled to run Aug. 24-27.

The city of Charlotte posted on its Twitter account Tuesday that it had not received any official notification from the RNC and that Patrick Baker, attorney for the city, "will be in contact with the attorneys for the RNC to understand their full intentions."

President Donald Trump is seen with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, left, last year during a briefing about Hurricane Dorian. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Earlier in the day, North Carolina Republican chairman Michael Whatley had acknowledged that some changes would likely be needed but maintained Republicans wanted a "full-scale" convention.

Whatley said the convention could have generated $200 million for the regional economy, giving a boost to the hospitality industry as well as restaurants and bars.

Were it to be moved, North Carolina's Cooper could face political ramifications as a result of the decision, as he is up for re-election in November.

States express interest as replacement host

Cooper wrote to RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel that "planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity." Cooper later told reporters it was unlikely that virus trends would allow a full-capacity nominating convention for Trump to proceed at Charlotte's NBA arena.

"We think it is unlikely that we would be to the point at the end of August to be able to have a jam-packed 19,000-person convention in the Spectrum arena," Cooper said. "So the likelihood of it being in Charlotte depends upon the RNC's willingness to discuss with us a scaled-down convention."

That prompted the RNC to say they would begin visiting potential alternative sites in the largely GOP-led states that have offered to host the quadrennial gathering instead.

McDaniel, meanwhile, accused Cooper of "dragging his feet" on giving them guidance for proceeding with convention plans. While the party would like to hold its event in Charlotte, "we have an obligation to our delegates and nominee to begin visiting the multiple cities and states" that have reached out to express interest in hosting, she said.

The Republican governors of states including Tennessee, Florida and Georgia had said they would be interested in hosting if North Carolina fell through.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said officials were coming to scout Nashville on Thursday and called the city "the best place in America to have a convention."

Georgia Gov. Brian P. Kemp responded to Trump's announcement by tweeting, "Hope you have Georgia on your mind, @realDonaldTrump!"

Despite their enthusiasm, it remains to be seen if a full-scale convention can be planned and held smoothly in just over two months, and the coronavirus concerns could still remain.

A relocation to Georgia could set up a clash between Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Last week, Lance Bottoms said the city is committed to following the scientific data regarding large events in a time of pandemic. She questioned holding a large-scale gathering in August, given that several events for that month have already been cancelled in order to comply with U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines regarding the coronavirus.

With files from CBC News

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