The Republican National Convention (RNC) has dramatically scaled back its footprint in Charlotte, N.C., over coronavirus concerns, but the select few delegates traveling to the Tar Heel State are optimistic both about their ability to take care of the party’s official business and the safety precautions taken by the party to prevent coronavirus spread.
Although the nightly speeches and pageantry of the convention — done largely remotely — won’t begin until Monday, business is well underway in Charlotte. Official events started on Friday and, over the weekend, delegates and RNC members have been busy with receptions and meetings, including a Committee on Credentials meeting Sunday afternoon.
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“It’s unique because you come in and everything’s geared toward COVID and health,” Andy Reilly, secretary of the Pennsylvania Republican Party and a Trump delegate on the credentials committee, told Fox News in an interview Friday. “Near the hotel, they had you do a full swab test, so they had nurses available to us, so it’s really professionally done to this point.”
Added Lawrence Tabas, the chairman of the Pennsylvania GOP and a Trump delegate himself: “I have to give the RNC a great deal of credit. In a very short period of time, they have set up a very expensive program.
“We all registered with a health system tracking that they set up,” he continued. “We all are getting COVID tests before we head down there. They provided us with the kit and all of the equipment. They provided us with a great deal of information on how they’re going to protect delegates down there in terms of not only the social distancing and the wearing of masks, but each morning we’ll be checking in with our vital signs and how we’re feeling.”
The RNC originally was set to take place in the Spectrum Center in Charlotte — a week full of pageantry and partying celebrating the renomination of President Trump and Vice President Pence ahead of the November election. But the coronavirus upended those plans, with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper implementing restrictions that would make such a convention impossible.
The party then planned to move the celebratory elements of its convention to Jacksonville, Fla., while keeping the main party business in Charlotte in a scaled-back manner, sending a skeleton crew of only six delegates from each state. But a rise in coronavirus cases in Florida made the party’s plans in Jacksonville impossible too. The RNC’s speeches and performances — the most important part of the convention for rallying the base and persuading undecided voters to join the cause — will now be broadcast remotely much like the Democrats’ convention last week.
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But the main party business, including the Committee on Credentials that officially seats all the party delegates and the roll call vote that will make Trump and Pence the party’s official nominees once again, is still happening in Charlotte. There also will be a handful of receptions and training sessions for party leaders.
“There was so much fanfare connected with the other conventions. You always had the programs at night,” Reilly told Fox News. “And really, this is just the business section of it. So it’ll be, you know, just all business. And I’m going to go to the multiple credential meetings. There’s a meeting for new RNC members that I’m going to. There’s a dinner I got invited to the new RNC members. But it’s nothing like a traditional convention.”
To take care of their business in-person, which is now happening at the Charlotte Convention Center in uptown Charlotte, the RNC took a slew of precautions. Oral swab coronavirus tests were mailed to each delegate ahead of the convention, and they were tested again upon arrival. Masks are mandatory and events are socially distanced.
The party has even invested in badges for delegates that will keep track of where they are in the convention center, who they are spending time near, and for how long. Reilly said, “It’s a little bit creepy, but by the same token it’s what you’ve got to do, and we’ve got a job to do.”
“All sessions will be opened to credentialed Members and Delegates, unless otherwise states on the agenda,” a note on the RNC’s official agenda for the weekend says. “Please note that seating will be limited at all sessions due to COVID-19 restriction. Once a session’s seats are filled, no further entry is permitted. Additional chairs will not be added to a session.”
The precautions at the RNC portray a strict attitude toward preventing coronavirus spread that at times Trump has not embraced, at least in the early days of the outbreak. The president was one of the last officials to begin encouraging Americans to wear masks after resisting doing so for weeks, and held a rally in Tulsa, Okla., with thousands in audience who were largely maskless.
Prominent on each day’s agenda are the hours for the health screening desk, which is open all day Friday through Sunday, then in the morning Monday ahead of when the party is scheduled to officially hold its roll-call vote to renominate the president. That’s one thing Tabas says will be almost the same as how most conventions have worked.
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“It’s similar to how they’re cast at a normal convention,” Tabas said. “They’ll call the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The chair of our delegation — I appointed Lou Barletta, the former congressman from our state who was one of the first Trump supporters to be the chair so he would have the honor of saying ‘The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is proud to cast these 85 delegate votes for the president and the vice president.'”
Though the mechanics will be similar, Tabas said, the event will look very different than past years due to the social distancing guidelines.
“It will certainly not look like the conventions of past years when everybody was on top of everybody,” Tabas laughed.
“I’m honored to be a part of it,” Reilly said. “It’s part of doing your civic duty.”