“Marcia and I have reached out to different folks to see whether FEMA or Homeland Security can provide PPE for both conventions,” McDaniel said, referring to Marcia Lee Kelly, a top convention official.
She said it was unclear how much could be provided and that “we just started that dialogue.”
Whether to hold the quadrennial political conventions has become an increasingly fraught issue amid a pandemic that has shown few signs of slowing and has cratered the U.S. economy.
Both parties said they hope to hold in-person events — in Charlotte for Republicans and Milwaukee for Democrats — and are struggling with how to pull that off while following public health guidelines and keeping attendees safe.
Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez said now was not the time to seek personal protective equipment from the federal government.
“The president’s mismanagement of this global health crisis has made the work of front line health care workers unnecessarily more challenging and now he plans to further disrupt the critical distribution of PPE by prioritizing a stockpile for a political event,” Perez said in a statement. “We will continue to work in coordination with federal, state and local health officials to ensure the safety of everyone involved with our convention, but now is not the time to focus on which political operatives get masks and gloves.”
Still, Perez did not rule out taking the gear in the future.
A White House official said no decision has been made on providing the PPE for conventions but that the political gatherings have been viewed in the past as national security events. The official confirmed that McDaniel has raised the issue with the White House. Some Republican and Democratic governors have complained that the federal government has not stockpiled enough personal protective gear and their states have to pay outlandish prices on the black market for the equipment.
A Republican official involved in convention planning said the RNC had also stowed away money to buy PPE should they need to buy it.
The Republican Party has been more bullish about holding an in-person convention than Democrats, but officials in both parties are in active discussions about scaled-back events.
President Trump is determined to have an in-person convention and was briefed by political advisers on Thursday, said people familiar with the meeting, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning deliberations.
“The president wants to go full steam ahead,” McDaniel said. “We are full steam ahead for in person, in Charlotte.”
Still, three Trump advisers said the RNC and the campaign were looking at scaling back attendance in the 15,000-seat arena that will host the convention, limiting or eliminating such events as concerts or parties after the official events, or requiring guests to take particular health precautions before entering, such as having their temperatures tested or wearing a mask.
The Republican convention organizers hired a medical adviser on Thursday that might recommend “adjustments,” McDaniel said, but added it was too soon to know. One person with direct knowledge of the planning said “it is difficult to imagine a scenario where everyone is sitting right next to another person in the arena.”
McDaniel said the party planned to release hotel rooms to state delegations in upcoming days, and she had been in touch with a range of state party officials and committee members.
“Every state party chair I’ve talked to is really excited about having the convention in person,” she said.
Another Republican with knowledge of the convention planning said the party and White House had received complaints from many supporters that the countrywide shutdown in response to the coronavirus had already lasted too long.
Since delaying their convention by more than a month in early April, Democratic leaders have been planning on dual tracks for a virtual or limited in-person convention, and have repeatedly said that they are weeks away from making a decision. But the convention host committee in Milwaukee has faced economic challenges in recent weeks, forcing it to lay off about half of its staff.
Among those let go, according to her social media accounts, was Neisha Blandin, the committee’s vice president of engagement and opportunity, who helped to lead community meetings around the state in February to recruit the 15,000 volunteers whom event planners had previously said they needed.
A spokesperson for the host committee, who would not comment on personnel moves, said the need for local assistance still exists and volunteers “will continue to hear from us in the weeks and months ahead.”
Though many Democrats see the in-person convention as unnecessary for a successful campaign, party leaders are concerned about the optics of Trump pulling off an in-person event while Democrats switch to a socially distant television broadcast. Some Democratic officials are also fearful that their delegates will be afraid to attend the event.
“If our convention is at risk, I would expect that would be the same problem for the Republicans as well,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), a co-chair of the host committee for the Milwaukee event, in an interview last month.
She described planning that was underway for more socially distant meetings and new hygiene measures to keep microphones clean during events. Like others in the party, she said she was eager to preserve some sort of in-person event. “We have had conventions during the Civil War and world wars.”
McDaniel said that in Charlotte, she had not gotten specific guidance from state and local officials on whether there would be any strict limitations.
“Some of the guidance has to come from the city and the state,” she said. “We are going to work with the mayor and the governor as they are opening up their states. I know they want to see this revenue come to Charlotte. Charlotte is a phenomenal, growing city.”
Last month, the Charlotte City Council voted 6 to 5 to accept a $50 million federal grant for planning, law enforcement and other city expenses for the Republican convention. The contentious debate among the largely Democratic City Council reflected a deep unease about holding the event, according to several members.
“When we asked: ‘What are we planning for in August?’ The answer was, ‘Well, we’re planning for a 50,000-person convention right here in downtown Charlotte,’ ” said Dimple Ajmera, an at-large member of the City Council. “There were some concerns from residents here — you know, there are folks that are unable to go to school.”
Ajmera, a Democrat, added: “Residents are saying that it’s really irresponsible for the city to plan a convention for 50,000 people in August.”
She said she does not see a scenario where it will be permissible to bring 50,000 people to the city. “We have been getting a lot of emails from residents, and they do not want to see this convention, and a lot of us on the council have pushed for virtual conventions,” she said.
Other large events scheduled around the same time have been canceled, with organizers citing the virus. Most recently, the Fastener Fair USA, which organizers tout as “North America’s fastest-growing trade show and conference event for the fastener industry,” was moved to March 2021 from late July in Charlotte. Fasteners are a hardware device used across a range of products. Roughly 2,200 fastener professionals gathered at last year’s convention in Detroit.