Former vice president Joe Biden will not travel to Milwaukee to accept the Democratic presidential nomination because of coronavirus concerns, convention organizers confirmed Wednesday.
The move marks the latest disruption in plans for what is typically a political festival but is now being conducted almost entirely virtually. It comes after President Trump, who had attempted to hold the Republican National Convention in Charlotte and then Jacksonville, Fla., began exploring the option of delivering his speech from the South Lawn at the White House.
Democratic convention organizers said they were taking the step “in order to prevent risking the health of our host community as well as the convention’s production teams, security officials, community partners, media and others necessary to orchestrate the event.”
“2020 will always be remembered as a year of once-in-a-lifetime challenges and changes — but it will also be remembered as a time when Americans were their most compassionate and resilient selves,” Joe Solmonese, chief executive of the Democratic National Convention, said in a statement. “While we wish we could move forward with welcoming the world to beautiful Milwaukee in two weeks, we recognize protecting the health of our host community and everyone involved with this convention must be paramount.”
News of the decision was first reported by Bloomberg News.
Democrats had previously scaled back their convention plans, with most speakers recording their remarks in an attempt to create a made-for-TV event that would air for two hours each night from Aug. 17 to 20. It was to culminate in a Thursday night speech by Biden in Milwaukee, to a small crowd.
Former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are also scheduled to speak, and the program is expected to include a tribute to the late congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis (D-Ga.), who died July 17.
In a speech to supporters at a campaign fundraiser Wednesday afternoon in Connecticut, Biden acknowledged he will not accept the nomination in Milwaukee. He maintained that “it’s going to be an exciting convention.”
“The mayor has put in place a 225-person limit on people assembling in any one place,” Biden said. “I think it’s the right thing to do. I’ve wanted to set an example as to how we should respond individually to this crisis.”
“From the start of the process, we’ve made it clear . . . science matters,” he added.
Details about the location of Biden’s speech in Delaware will be released at a later date, the convention organizers said.
Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, maintained Wednesday that the convention will still highlight Milwaukee as a city, adding that he remains “excited about highlighting our values” and the differences between Biden and Trump.
In an appearance on MSNBC, Perez said that “99.9 percent of people see the conventions from television. . . . Conventions are television productions.” He played down the importance of an in-person event for giving the nominee a post-convention “bump” in the polls.
Days after the Democratic convention concludes, several hundred Republican delegates are expected to gather for a pared-down session of official meetings Aug. 24 in Charlotte to nominate Trump.
That will be followed by three more days of speeches and programming from undetermined sites, culminating in Trump’s acceptance speech on Aug. 27.
In an interview Wednesday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Trump confirmed he will “probably” deliver his acceptance speech live from the White House, which he argued “would be the easiest from the standpoint of security.”
“If for some reason somebody had difficulty with it, I could go someplace else,” Trump said. “The easiest, least expensive, and I think very beautiful would be live from the White House.”
Under federal law, government employees and property are generally barred from being used for political purposes, with notable exceptions. The Hatch Act, which prevents federal officials from certain forms of political activity at work, exempts both the president and the vice president from any restrictions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed back against Trump’s proposal in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday afternoon.
“You don’t have political events in the Capitol,” Pelosi said. “You don’t have political events in the White House.”
Pressed further by Mitchell, she added, “It won’t happen, let’s put it that way. . . . Andrea, my friend, once again he is diverting attention from the fact that people are dying in this country.”
Perez also denounced Trump’s proposal.
“It’s epically breathtaking to hear the president say that — ‘I’m going to give a political speech from the White House,’ ” he said on MSNBC. “That would be a nonstarter for any Democrat running. That is so unethical. But there’s no surprise there.”
Several Republican senators Wednesday said they either had not heard Trump’s remarks about potentially delivering his speech from the White House or were not familiar with the rules.
“Well, he lives there,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “What are his options?”
Some expressed doubt about the idea. “Probably not allowed. . . . Probably shouldn’t do it,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a frequent critic of the president, said: “I don’t know whether that’s technically legal or not, but it’s got to be somewhere!”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) suggested that if Trump were to deliver the speech on government property, “that would be problematic.”
“I would have to have somebody show me where it says he can do that,” Cornyn said.