Trump, GOP say national convention will be moved, after tense standoff with North Carolina

The president said Republicans are "forced" to find a new site.

June 3, 2020, 12:38 PM

Republicans are suddenly adjusting their plans for the national convention with less than three months until the event, saying they are moving President Trump's acceptance speech out of Charlotte, N.C., amid a standoff with the state's Democratic governor over restrictions to safely host a large-scale event in the midst of the coronavirus.

Trump tweeted late Tuesday that due to the escalating feud with Gov. Roy Cooper, "We are now forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention."

A Republican National Committee official further clarified Trump's abrupt announcement, saying that the "celebration of the president’s acceptance of the Republican nomination" will be in another city. But the official added, "should the governor allow more than 10 people in a room, we still hope to conduct the official business of the convention in Charlotte."

The city and the RNC are locked in a contract that was signed more than two years ago, requiring the convention to be held in Charlotte. The event is scheduled for Aug. 24-27.

Trump laid blame for the sudden change of plans squarely on Cooper, but the governor has maintained that he is prioritizing public health over politics.

"It’s unfortunate they never agreed to scale down and make changes to keep people safe. Protecting public health and safety during this pandemic is a priority," Cooper responded in his own tweet.

PHOTO: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., June 2, 2020.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., June 2, 2020.
Ethan Hyman/AP

Party officials are eyeing Nashville, Tennessee, as a potential alternative to host the marquee event in August, with a trip planned for later this week, either on Thursday or Friday, a Republican familiar with the discussions told to ABC News. Politico first reported the trip.

Other cities under consideration are Las Vegas, Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida, as well as venues in Georgia. Vice President Mike Pence also previously floated Florida, Georgia and Texas as potential alternative hosts and West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice reached out to the White House and the RNC with an invitation to hold the event in his state, according to a local ABC affiliate.

All three Republican governors from the states mentioned by Pence welcomed the opportunity to host the convention. But one Republican governor is taking a different approach.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, when asked about the opportunity, was far more hesitant, saying in a Fox News interview on Wednesday, "I don't know where we will be several months from now. But this would not be something that we think that we would volunteer to do."

Trump's tweet comes amid stalled discussions with North Carolina leaders, and after RNC officials gave Cooper a deadline of June 3 to approve the party's outline for a safe, yet "full scale" convention.

Part of the RNC's plans for Trump's nominating celebration involved 19,000 delegates, alternate delegates, staff, volunteers, elected officials and guests inside the Spectrum Center, and "full hotels and restaurants and bars at capacity."

Earlier on Tuesday, Cooper rebuffed the request, telling the RNC in a letter, "The people of North Carolina do not know what the status of COVID-19 will be in August, so planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity."

"We are happy to continue talking with you about the a scaled-down convention would look like and we still await your proposed plan for that," he continued.

In the past week, national party leaders and North Carolina officials took turns outlining their visions for what the convention could look like in a flurry of letters. The back-and-forth was triggered by the president, who hamstrung convention planning after threatening early last week to pull the convention from Charlotte if "full attendance" won't be allowed.

Discussions between aides to Cooper and the RNC broke down after a Friday conversation between Cooper, Trump, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and Marcia Lee Kelly, the president and CEO of the convention, in which Republicans wanted a guarantee of a "full arena." Cooper, who is contending with rising coronavirus cases in his state, said on Tuesday that would be "very unlikely."

"Neither public health officials nor I will risk the health and safety of North Carolinians by providing the guarantee you seek," he wrote.

After Cooper's latest exchange, top Republicans assured that their preference was to keep the quadrennial event in Charlotte, at least only part of it.

"We hope to still conduct the business of our convention in Charlotte, but we have an obligation to our delegates and nominee to begin visiting the the multiple cities and states who have reached out in recent days about hosting an historic event to show that America is open for business," McDaniel said.

With eyes now on Nashville, Tennessee's Republican governor opened the door for the party to take the unprecedented step of moving locations in such a short period of time.

"I can tell them that Nashville is the best place in America to have a convention. And we certainly would be interested in welcoming that to our city," Gov. Bill Lee said.

PHOTO: Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Feb. 28, 2019.
Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Feb. 28, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters, FILE

The mayor of Nashville's office weighed in, too, but said they will not actively lobby to bring the event to the city.

"We're not surprised that any national convention would look at us," Chris Song, a spokesperson for the mayor said. "We have no plans to use our limited public funds to recruit this convention at this time."

But even with Trump stepping up his initial threat to an explicit declaration that he's looking elsewhere, auxiliary plans are still only in their early stages.

"We are aware of the interest from Gov. Lee's Office. We have not had any official contact with the RNC at this time," Butch Spyridon, the president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., said in a statement to ABC News.

Lee also told reporters earlier on Tuesday, "There's been very little conversation."

The Republicans' approach to the convention - drawing a hard line that a bustling, in-person event is a must - differs from their Democratic counterparts, who are more open to changing the event's format to adjust to the ongoing health crisis that is expected to persist through August.

Democrats, after rescheduling their initial gathering from July to the week of Aug. 17, are still remaining officially coy about how they plan to proceed. But the party is considering contingency options for the event, and last month, national Democrats paved the way for remote voting, by allowing delegates to partake even if they don't attend the event in-person - potentially shifting the convention closer to a virtual format.

Planning for both nominating events, which bookend the primary season, is a significant undertaking that takes years to organize and typically attracts thousands of the party's rank-and-file and supporters.

But since the onset of the public health crisis, organizers for both conventions have been faced with unparalleled circumstances and forced to recalibrate their best-laid plans on the fly.

Republicans, meanwhile, have consistently kept a public posture that their convention is "full steam ahead" and that a virtual convention is not on the table, since having an in-person event is inscribed in their party rules.

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