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Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick

Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are hedging on whether to attend the Republican National Convention next month in Jacksonville as coronavirus cases surge in Florida and other states.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE (R-Ky.) — who has "every intention" of attending, a spokesperson said earlier this week — acknowledged on Thursday that the pandemic has thrown a curveball into the party's convention plans.

"Well, I think the convention is a challenging situation and a number of my colleagues have announced that they’re not going to attend. And we’ll have to wait and see how things look in late August to determine whether or not you can safely convene that many people," McConnell, 78, said in Kentucky when asked if he would be in attendance.

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Six Republicans have signaled they will not participate in the GOP gathering in Jacksonville. Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsTrump's controversial Fed nominee stalled after Senate setback Business groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair Republicans hold on to competitive Kansas House seat MORE (R-Kan.), who is 84, became the latest when he told reporters on Thursday that he had scheduling conflicts.

"Well, I have some things to do in Kansas that I got to do and unfortunately I didn't know what was canceled and what was not and whatever, and so I will probably not be," Roberts said when asked if he was going to the convention.

Several others have either not made a decision or not publicly committed to attending, including Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerHillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities Democrats vent to Schumer over Senate majority failure MORE (Colo.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTeam Trump offering 'fire hose' of conspiracy Kool-Aid for supporters Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection North Carolina's Mark Walker expected to announce Senate bid MORE (N.C.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump nominee's long road to Fed may be dead end McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol McSally's final floor speech: 'I gave it my all, and I left it all on the field' MORE (Ariz.), who are each in battleground Senate races.

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesRick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (R-Mont.), who is facing an increasingly competitive Senate race, noted that he supported President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE but sidestepped on whether he would attend the Republican convention.

"You know, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But you know, I'm looking forward to seeing an exciting event. ... We'll watch this day by day, but I'm sure it will be a great event," Daines said in an interview with Fox News.

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Other senators, according to their offices, have not yet weighed in on whether they will attend the convention at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

A spokesperson for Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoHillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-W.Va.) noted that the senator was "looking forward to a great convention" but hadn't released travel plans. A spokeswoman for Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell wants deal this week on fiscal 2021 spending figures Graham becomes center of Georgia storm Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (Mo.), the No. 4 Republican senator, said his schedule was "in flux."

Spokespeople for Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (R-S.D.) and John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-Wyo.) — the No. 2 and No. 3 Republican senators, respectively — didn't respond to questions about whether they would attend the convention.

The spread of the coronavirus has added hurdles to convention planners. The GOP moved the main events for the gathering, including Trump accepting the nomination, from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville amid a dispute with North Carolina's Democratic governor about social distancing rules.

Republican senators acknowledged that the safety guidelines, and the status of coronavirus cases in Florida, would likely influence their travel plans.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities MORE (R-Ohio) said he is planning to attend "pending the safety and security precautions and guidelines issued by the CDC."

Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanBusiness groups scramble to forge ties amid race for House Agriculture chair Romney calls first Trump-Biden debate 'an embarrassment' COVID-19 relief talks look dead until September  MORE (R-Ark.) told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he was planning to go "right now" but "who knows what the world will look like during that period of time, the next few weeks."

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Wis.) told a Wisconsin TV station late last week that he hadn't yet made a decision, adding that he wanted to know "what kind of social distancing, what kind of precautions are being taken."

Roughly 15 GOP senators, or their offices, have said that they plan to attend the convention next month. Though some, like aides for Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordEthics experts ask Senate to investigate Graham's probe of mail-in voting The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Pfizer unveils detailed analysis of COVID-19 vaccine & next steps GOP senators congratulate Harris on Senate floor MORE (R-Okla.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIt's time for Congress to act: Save jobs and stabilize the aerospace industry Lobbying world This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans MORE (R-Kansas), noted it was their "current" plan. A spokesperson for Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Republicans start turning the page on Trump era The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump, Biden blitz battleground states MORE (R-Miss.) added that he was planning to attend "at this time."

The spread of the coronavirus has made it increasingly unlikely that Republicans will be able to hold a full-scale convention in Jacksonville next month. Trump acknowledged this week that Republicans would likely need to be flexible because of the once-in-a-century global health pandemic.

“Now all of a sudden it’s spiking up a little bit, and that’s going to go down. It really depends on the timing. Look, we’re very flexible, we could do a lot of things, but we’re very flexible,” Trump told Greta Van Susteren, host of “Full Court Press.”

Several states are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases. Florida reported 9,989 new cases on Wednesday, according to New York Times data, with a total of 223,775 cases since the outbreak began.

Even as many of their colleagues have seemed shaky about attending, some GOP senators signaled this week they were enthusiastic about attending.

"I'll be there with bells on. I wouldn't miss it for the world. Are you kidding?" Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said during an interview with Fox News Radio. "This is a chance to let America see and showcase the difference between what President Trump's agenda is accomplishing for the country and what the radical left wants to perpetrate on America."

A spokesperson for Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Florida's former governor, added that he plans to attend and "is confident that [Republican National Committee] Chairwoman McDaniel, the RNC and the city of Jacksonville will take whatever precautions are necessary to keep attendees safe."