Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump’s convention amid coronavirus uptick
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 McConnell (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.
Six Republicans have signaled they will not participate in the GOP gathering in Jacksonville. Sen. Pat Roberts (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 Gardner (Colo.), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.), who are each in battleground Senate races.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who is facing an increasingly competitive Senate race, noted that he supported President Trump 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 Capito (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 Blunt (Mo.), the No. 4 Republican senator, said his schedule was “in flux.”
Spokespeople for Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Barrasso (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 Portman (R-Ohio) said he is planning to attend “pending the safety and security precautions and guidelines issued by the CDC.”
Sen. John Boozman (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 Johnson (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 Lankford (R-Okla.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), noted it was their “current” plan. A spokesperson for Sen. Roger Wicker (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.”