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 McConnellSchumer tees up key Thursday vote on debt deal House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale 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 RobertsBob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Bob Dole, Pat Roberts endorse Kansas AG Derek Schmidt for governor 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 GardnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules Gun control group alleges campaign finance violations in lawsuit against NRA Colorado Supreme Court signs off on new congressional map MORE (Colo.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP blocks bill to expand gun background checks after Michigan school shooting Overnight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' Republicans press Milley over perceived progressive military agenda MORE (N.C.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyBusiness groups, sensing victory, keep up pressure over tax hikes Kelly raises million in third quarter Ruben Gallego is left's favorite to take on Sinema MORE (Ariz.), who are each in battleground Senate races.

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesBill honoring 13 service members killed in Afghanistan heads to Biden's desk The Memo: Much-criticized Trump policy puts Biden in a vise The good, bad, and ugly of Tester's Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act MORE (R-Mont.), who is facing an increasingly competitive Senate race, noted that he supported President TrumpDonald TrumpSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Crenshaw slams House Freedom Caucus members as 'grifters,' 'performance artists' Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection 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.

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 CapitoOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden may get reprieve with gas price drop McConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal Stabenow calls for expansion of school mental health services 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 BluntHouse approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike McConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal McConnell 'confident' 10 GOP senators will back debt deal MORE (Mo.), the No. 4 Republican senator, said his schedule was "in flux."

Spokespeople for Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHouse approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike McConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal McConnell 'confident' 10 GOP senators will back debt deal MORE (R-S.D.) and John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to omicron variant Barrasso calls Biden's agenda 'Alice in Wonderland' logic: 'He's the Mad Hatter' 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.

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A spokeswoman for Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHillicon Valley — Presented by Connected Commerce Council — Incident reporting language left out of package Language requiring companies to report cyberattacks left out of defense bill GOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision 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 BoozmanPostal Service expansion into banking services misguided Arkansas governor backs Sarah Huckabee Sanders to replace him Arkansas attorney general drops bid for governor, says she will work with Sanders 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 JohnsonFauci calls Ron Johnson's AIDS comment 'preposterous': 'I don't have any clue of what he's talking about' Wisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' It's time to bury ZombieCare once and for all 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 LankfordRubio blocks quick votes on stalemated defense bill Constant threats to government funding fail the American public GOP Senate candidate says Fauci is 'mass murderer,' should be jailed rather than 'hero' Rittenhouse MORE (R-Okla.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranLawmakers remember Bob Dole: 'Bona fide American hero' Biden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans Bottom line MORE (R-Kansas), noted it was their "current" plan. A spokesperson for Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley — Chinese disinformation accounts removed GOP resistance to Biden FCC nominee could endanger board's Democratic majority Bottom line 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."