The letter did not address some basic safety concerns, omitting, for example, whether attendees would be required to wear masks or take a coronavirus test before entering the Spectrum Arena where the convention would be held. Federal health authorities have strongly recommended the use of masks for any gatherings in which attendees cannot properly distance themselves — which would be the case in a convention drawing thousands of delegates and others.
Trump has been determined, Republicans in contact with him say, to hold a large-scale convention without an audience filled with masked people.
The party said it envisions safety protocols including pre-travel health surveys through local health-care providers, daily health-care questionnaires, temperature checks of “all mandatory attendees prior to boarding sanitized, pre-arranged transportation,” antibacterial gel, “aggressive sanitizing” and food service guidelines for every restaurant.
“We still do not have solid guidelines from the State and cannot in good faith, ask thousands of visitors to begin paying deposits and making travel plans without knowing the full commitment of the Governor, elected officials and other stakeholders in supporting the Convention,” said the letter, signed by RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.
Sadie Weiner, the governor’s spokeswoman, spoke on his behalf Thursday night.
“We are still waiting for a plan from the RNC, but our office will work with state health officials to review the letter and share a response tomorrow,” she said. The governor is, like Trump, on the ballot in November and his decision is likely to reverberate in his tightly contested state.
The letter set off a clash between the parties. RNC spokesman Mike Reed said the party’s procedures would “ensure a healthy event.”
“If the governor is saying this isn’t enough for him, he should put out guidelines for where North Carolina hopes to be in August,” Reed said. “Otherwise, it feels to us like he is just dragging his feet, and not showing leadership.”
Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, cited the pandemic’s toll in terms of death and job losses. “In every area, Trump has ignored experts, and now he’s more concerned about packing 50,000 people in a stadium without listening to health officials,” she said. “We will continue to listen to local and national health officials.”
Nearly all large-scale events across the country this summer had been canceled. Democrats, whose convention had been scheduled for mid-July in Milwaukee, moved it to Aug. 17 to 20 in hopes that health conditions will improve by then. But both presumptive nominee Joe Biden and other Democratic officials have increasingly sounded skeptical about a large-scale event and have begun planning for a smaller gathering.
The RNC event is scheduled for Aug. 24 to 27, and there had been little public talk about changing plans before Trump this week tweeted a threat to pull the convention.
“We have a governor that doesn’t want to open up the state and we have a date of . . . the end of August,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “And we have to know before we spend millions and millions of dollars on an arena to make it magnificent for the convention. . . . If the governor can’t tell us very soon, unfortunately, we’ll have no choice.”
Cooper, who has followed federal health guidelines in a phased reopening of his state, had told reporters earlier Tuesday that the health and safety of state residents were paramount as North Carolina plans for the event.
“It’s okay for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be,” Cooper said Tuesday afternoon at a news conference in which Trump’s demands came up repeatedly. “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.”
A senior Republican involved in convention planning said the party had been debating how to stage a convention with North Carolina officials in recent days. While Trump has agitated against North Carolina officials on Twitter and threatened to move the convention, party officials have remained in touch with Cooper and others in Charlotte to try to keep the event in the Tar Heel State — while also beginning to scout backup options.
“If there are any additional guidelines to what is outlined above that we will be expected to meet, you need to let us know by Wednesday, June 3,” the RNC letter says.