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GOP Says Trump Will Celebrate In Another City, But Business Side Of RNC Could Remain

WFAE's political reporter Steve Harrison discusses what steps the GOP may take with the convention and what that means for Charlotte.

President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday evening that the RNC will be "forced to seek another state to host" the event that is slated to be held in Charlotte's Spectrum Center in August. The GOP, however, clarified that the "celebration of the president's acceptance" of the nomination will take place in another city, but the business side of the convention could remain in Charlotte.

Trump's tweet was the latest, and perhaps final, volley in a back-and-forth exchange between the RNC and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, who earlier Tuesday told convention organizers they needed to plan for a scaled-back convention with face masks amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump wrote, "Roy Cooper and his representatives refuse to guarantee that we can have use of the Spectrum Center - Spend millions of dollars, have everybody arrive and then tell them that they will not be able to gain entry. Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-In-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised. Would have showcased beautiful North Carolina to the World, and brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, and jobs, for the State. Because of (Cooper), we are now forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention."

Cooper responded with a tweet of his own Tuesday night, saying "protecting public health and safety during this pandemic is a priority."

But an RNC official said Tuesday night that not all is lost: "Due to the directive from the governor that our convention cannot go on as planned as required by our rules, the celebration of the president’s acceptance of the Republican nomination will be held in another city. Should the governor allow more than 10 people in a room, we still hope to conduct the official business of the convention in Charlotte.” 

That means it's possible that delegates could meet in ballrooms throughout Charlotte -- but Trump could hold outdoor rallies in other states that will allow large gatherings as restrictions on crowd sizes because of the coronavirus loosen.

The debate over the convention jumped into high gear May 25 when President Trump tweeted that the RNC could leave Charlotte because Cooper, a Democrat, was "still in shutdown mood."

On Saturday, organizers wrote to Cooper asking for his assurance by Wednesday that a "full convention" could take place and that bars, hotels and restaurants could operate at capacity or they would "immediately need to begin making modifications" for the event.

Cooper on Tuesday said he wouldn't provide that guarantee. 

We are hopeful Governor Cooper will finally give us the guidance we need to do so. pic.twitter.com/6IwYBPaJ4A— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) May 30, 2020

A "full convention" would include about 19,000 delegates, staff, volunteers and other attendees. None of those things are permitted in full under North Carolina's current COVID-19 restrictions, which are in place until at least June 26.

"We had appreciated your earlier acknowledgments that a successful and safe convention would need to be scaled back to protect the health of participants as well as North Carolinians," Cooper wrote Tuesday. "Unfortunately, it appears that has now changed."

Cooper said he still wanted "a safe RNC" in Charlotte but that planning "for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity."

McDaniel responded, tweeting that the GOP still wants to hold the convention in Charlotte but that "we have an obligation to our delegates and nominee to begin visiting the multiple cities and states who have reached out in recent days" about hosting a relocated RNC.  

RNC organizers last week submitted plans for temperature checks, coronavirus testing at the convention, increased cleaning -- but no mention of requiring face masks.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen wrote back, asking for more details about health screenings, social distancing plans and clarity on expected crowd sizes.

The state is in a limited version of Phase 2 of a three-part reopening plan. The earliest that will end is June 26, and until then there's a 10-person limit on inside crowds.

As of Tuesday, North Carolina Health and Human Services was reporting that 29,889 cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed by testing and that 921 people had died from COVID-19. The department estimated that 18,860 people had recovered as of Monday — about 64% of confirmed cases at the time. 

Could The Convention Really Move?

Vice President Mike Pence has said that Florida, Georgia or Texas could host. RNC spokesperson Rick Gorka said Tuesday that the GOP will make a site visit to Nashville, Tennessee, this week and is also considering Las Vegas.  

But few cities have said they want to host. One exception is Jacksonville, Florida, where Republican Mayor Lenny Curry has offered the VyStar Arena as the main venue.

Two years ago, the GOP invited seven cities to Washington to discuss the convention. Those cities expressed interest but only Charlotte submitted a formal bid.While the Republican National Committee has threatened to move the convention, Gorka, the committee spokesperson, said last week that Charlotte will still be the host site – either with 19,000 people inside the arena or 100.

Republican Charlotte City Council member Ed Driggs, who supports bringing the convention here, said the two sides are far apart.

"I saw that letter from the RNC and I thought there is still a big gap," Driggs said. "It really is a tough situation. You talk about a rock and a hard place. I don't see any satisfactory way out."

The 2020 Democratic National Convention, set for July in Milwaukee, was postponed until August and officials have said it could be largely virtual

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This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2020 WFAE

Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia and the Gaston Gazette in Gastonia.
Jodie Valade is a Digital News and Engagement Editor for WFAE. Since moving to Charlotte in 2015, she has worked as a digital content producer for NASCAR.com and a freelance writer for publications ranging from Charlotte magazine to The Washington Post and New York Times. Before that, Jodie was an award-winning sports features and enterprise reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. She also worked at The Dallas Morning News covering the Dallas Mavericks -- where she became Mark Cuban's lifelong email pen pal -- and at The Kansas City Star.