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 McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal 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 RobertsMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Virus bill unlikely to pass this week 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 Scott GardnerCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The US military has options against China MORE (Colo.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  MORE (N.C.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Hillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info MORE (Ariz.), who are each in battleground Senate races.

Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesFrom a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump signs major conservation bill into law | Senate votes to confirm Energy's No. 2 official | Trump Jr. expresses opposition to Pebble Mine project MORE (R-Mont.), who is facing an increasingly competitive Senate race, noted that he supported President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran 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 CapitoAnalysis finds record high number of woman versus woman congressional races Former VA staffer charged with giving seven patients fatal insulin doses Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick 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 BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections MORE (Mo.), the No. 4 Republican senator, said his schedule was "in flux."

Spokespeople for Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMeadows says he wants Trump nomination speech 'miles and miles away' from White House The Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal MORE (R-S.D.) and John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoLatest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Barrasso nuclear bill latest GOP effort to boost uranium mining 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 PortmanNot a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senators holding behind-the-scenes talks on breaking coronavirus package stalemate 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 BoozmanSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick The Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports 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 JohnsonBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe 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 LankfordSenate GOP opens door to smaller coronavirus deal as talks lag Ballooning Fed balance sheet sparks GOP concerns  The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Lauren Underwood says Americans face economic crisis if Senate fails to act on unemployment benefits extension; US surpasses 4 million cases, 1,000+ deaths for third straight day MORE (R-Okla.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranTrump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage As ADA anniversary nears, lawmakers express concern about changes to captioned telephone service MORE (R-Kansas), noted it was their "current" plan. A spokesperson for Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers zero in on Twitter after massive hack | US, UK, Canada allege Russian hackers targeted COVID-19 vaccine researchers | Top EU court rules data transfer deal with the US is illegal Lawmakers zero in on Twitter following massive hack 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."