DNC takes first step toward scaling back in-person convention

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The Democratic National Committee on Tuesday took the first step toward scaling back the nominating convention or taking aspects of it online due to ongoing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee passed a resolution granting new power to the party’s convention planning committee to “make the necessary changes to the format, size, date or other aspects in order to conduct a safe convention.”

Convention delegates will be allowed to participate either “in person or by means that allow for appropriate social distancing,” the resolution states. The convention committee has been given broad authority on everything from “adjusting the convention format to dealing with crowd size.”

The Democratic convention in Milwaukee, Wisc., where presumptive nominee Joe Biden will officially be nominated, is currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 17.

The convention, which is expected to draw thousands of political operatives and reporters to Wisconsin and the Chicagoland area in northern Illinois, had originally been scheduled to take place in mid-July but was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The DNC resolution acknowledges that both Wisconsin and Illinois are under stay-at-home orders that “may prevent Convention delegates, personnel, invitees, and contractors from legally traveling to and physically congregating for the Convention.”

“We’re working to plan a successful convention in Milwaukee and the resolution discussed today is an important first step to give the convention team maximum flexibility they need in this truly unprecedented moment in history,” DNC chairman Tom Perez said at the meeting of the Rules and Bylaws committee.

The resolution passed the Rules and Bylaws Committee unanimously but still faces a vote by the full DNC.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee on Tuesday also approved proposals to ensure the states that delayed their Democratic primaries due to the coronavirus are not stripped of delegates at the convention for breaking with the sanctioned schedule.

“The DNC is prepared to take any steps necessary in this constantly shifting public health crisis to protect the safety and wellbeing of its members, delegates to the Convention, the Convention’s diverse host community in Milwaukee, and the general public, while also ensuring that the Democratic Party is able to nominate its candidates for President and Vice President of the United States and support a robust program to elect those candidates,” the resolution states.

The new convention resolution does not mandate a virtual convention or extreme social distancing measures that might lead to a smaller gathering. Rather, it gives authority to the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) to consider a “range of options” to ensure the convention is inline with recommendations from public health officials, Democratic officials say.

Perez said the resolution will allow the party to “adapt” and hold a convention that is conducted either “in person or with other means to allow for social distancing.”

DNCC chief Joe Solmonese has said that the party is working with “local, state, and federal officials responsible for protecting public health” and will “continue to follow their guidance.”

The host committee charged with raising money and planning events around the convention has been beset by layoffs, although some of the furloughed employees have joined the DNCC.

Some Democrats are worried that the coronavirus will make it all but impossible to raise the kind of money needed to pull off the kind of elaborate convention that they’ve done in the past. 

The Democratic convention is scheduled to take place one week before the Republicans will hold their convention in Charlotte, N.C., where President Trump will be nominated.

Republican National Committee (RNC) chairwoman Ronna McDaniel says the GOP is moving “full steam ahead” on holding an in-person convention.

Perez on Tuesday blasted Trump and the RNC, accusing them of “downplaying” the seriousness of the pandemic and saying they’d been “eager to advocate” for a return to normalcy against the advice of public health officials.

At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned of “really serious” consequences if the country moves to reopen too soon.

“My concern is that if some areas, city, states or what have you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Fauci said.

“The consequences could be really serious,” he added.

The different approaches mirror the political and cultural divides between Republicans and Democrats. Trump has been advocating for the reopening of state economies. GOP governors, particularly in the South, have been among the first to begin reopening.

Some Democrats have told The Hill they’re worried that they’ll pull the plug on the convention too quickly, potentially giving Trump a four-day-long coronation ceremony that sets him up for a strong run to Election Day.

But Democrats have for months taken a cautious approach toward the convention, with Biden acknowledging last month that they might have to hold a “virtual convention” in lieu of the real thing.

Both Wisconsin and North Carolina will be fiercely contested battleground states in November.

Trump carried Wisconsin by less than 1 point in 2016. Democrat Hillary Clinton notably did not visit the Badger State during her campaign.

The president carried North Carolina by 3.6 points in 2016. The Tarheel State also features a competitive Senate race, with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) considered to be among the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020.

— Updated at 4:51 p.m.

Tags Anthony Fauci Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Ronna McDaniel Thom Tillis Tom Perez

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