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Never mind the virus: Trump demands guarantee of packed convention arena

A scene from the 2016 GOP presidential convention.

A scene from the 2016 GOP presidential convention. President Donald Trump also wants a packed arena at the upcoming convention. Credit: AP / Matt Rourke

Unmasked threat

No one can be sure where and how severely the coronavirus threat will linger by late August, but it matters little to Donald Trump as far as the Republican National Convention is concerned. The president wants his fans' fannies packing the seats of the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. He demanded Monday that officials in North Carolina get out of the way so he can bask in the roar of a full-arena crowd, hopefully without much coughing.

“Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed … full attendance in the Arena,” Trump tweeted. He added that Republicans “must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced … to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”

That wasn't an impulse tweet. Vice President Mike Pence carried the same coordinated message to "Fox & Friends." Pence called it “a very reasonable request" and added: "We look forward to working with Gov. [Roy] Cooper, getting a swift response and, if needs be, moving the national convention to a state that is farther along on reopening and can say with confidence that we can gather there.” Pence said Texas, Florida or Georgia could be an alternative.

Trump called on Cooper to answer "immediately." The governor has said data and science will guide his decisions on whether the state can hold large gatherings like the convention. Forecasting local conditions aren't the only variable. A fully attended convention will attract tens of thousands of delegates, staff, security, donors and members of the media from around the nation and the world, bringing more risk if any are coming from hot spots or then bringing new infections back home.

"The good thing is that this is three months away and it's too early to tell where North Carolina will be," Cooper told CNN. "But we are looking at these objective measures that everybody can see."

The state counted nearly 24,000 coronavirus cases Monday, a daily increase of about 740. On Saturday, the state reported 1,100 new cases, its biggest daily jump. On Friday, Cooper moved the state into a second reopening phase by loosening restrictions on hair salons, barbers and restaurants. But he said his state must move cautiously. Indoor entertainment venues, gyms and bars remain closed.

Trump tweeted later of his threat to bolt Charlotte: "This is not something I want to do." But Florida Republicans quickly pitched their state as an option. Trump accused The New York Times of falsely reporting — it did not — that he was interested in moving the convention to his Doral resort near Miami. "Ballroom is not nearly big enough," Trump said. Then again, a convention in the area could fill rooms that otherwise don't draw much demand in Miami's sweltering summers.

Four more years, win or lose?

Trump's claims that he could be the victim of a "rigged" election is fanning serious Democratic worries that he wouldn't take a no from the voters, even as his campaign calls that “baseless, ridiculous conspiracy talk."

A group of worst-case scenario planners — mostly Democrats, but some anti-Trump Republicans as well — have been gaming out various doomsday options of ways the election could be disrupted before, during and after Election Day, The New York Times reported. "In the eight to 10 months I’ve been yapping at people about this stuff, the reactions have gone from ‘Don’t be silly, that won’t happen,’ to an increasing sense of ‘You know, that could happen,’ ” Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor, told the paper.

Marc Elias, a Washington lawyer who leads the Democratic National Committee’s legal efforts to fight voter suppression measures, imagines ways the Trump administration could act in October to make it harder for people to vote in urban centers in battleground states — possibilities that include declaring a state of emergency, deploying the National Guard or forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people.

Bob Bauer, Joe Biden’s personal lawyer, said in a statement that Trump “may well resort to any kind of trick, ploy or scheme he can in order to hold onto his presidency.”

David Skaggs, a former Democratic congressman, told Politico there are people remaining in government who take their oaths of office seriously and “who are not going to be bowled over by a power grab.” However, he noted the presence of a “militia movement out there in the country that would probably rise to arms if the president said they should, and that would be awful.”

Janison: Uncontained corruption

A massive rush of coronavirus-related federal spending has made federal programs more vulnerable to grifters and schemers, and Trump's broader war against oversight isn't going to help, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Trump has been purging inspectors general, the quasi-independent monitors assigned to police executive agencies. This shake-up has affected the Pentagon, the State Department and Health and Human Services, as well as the committee created by Congress to oversee huge federal pandemic handouts.

What can happen absent such scrutiny? ProPublica reports that just 11 days after forming a company, a former White House official with no experience in contracting won a $3 million deal to sell personal protective equipment to the Indian Health Service, which is part of HHS. The IHS says 247,000 of the respirator masks the company supplied for Navajo Nation hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona may be unsuitable for medical use.

Biden emerges from lockdown

Biden on Monday made his first appearance outside his house since a March 15 debate in a Washington TV studio with Bernie Sanders. Joined by his wife, Jill, he marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home. Both wore black face masks, in contrast with Trump, who won't be seen wearing any in public.

The Bidens placed a wreath of white flowers at a war memorial in the park and bowed their heads in silence. Joe Biden saluted. “Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made,” he said afterward. "Never, ever forget." Biden’s advisers told The Associated Press they plan to return to normal campaign activities at some point, including travel to battleground states. But they’re in no hurry, preferring to defer to the advice of health experts and the authorities’ stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations.

Remembrances solemn and less so

Monday was a day to honor America's war dead, and the tone of tweets from various quarters of the White House was appropriately reverential.

Pence wrote: "Today we remember and honor those who served and did not come home. America will never forget the brave men and women who laid down their lives and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. God Bless our fallen heroes."

From first lady Melania Trump: "You gave your lives for our nation & countless others around the world. You have served with honor & we thank you for your defense of our freedoms."

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany posted: "Today we remember the American heroes who paid the ultimate price. Their immeasurable sacrifice has safeguarded the freedom and liberty that we all cherish."

Also, there was a tweet from Trump: "HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!"

Later, Trump silently attended a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. From there, he flew to Baltimore’s historic Fort McHenry and, following the teleprompter, said, "I stand before you at this noble fortress of American liberty to pay tribute to the immortal souls who fought and died to keep us free." He wore no mask at either event.

Fuzzy math on Trump golf scorecard

Lashing out over coverage of his two weekend golf excursions amid the pandemic, Trump said the media was "sick with hatred and dishonesty" and doesn't mention "all of the time Obama spent on the golf course."

When Barack Obama was president, citizen Trump frequently criticized him for golfing. But veteran CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller, a meticulous tracker of presidential activities, counted 98 rounds of golf by Obama through this point in his presidency, compared with all or part of 248 days at a golf course for Trump.

Trump tweeted, "Barack was always playing golf, doing much of his traveling in a fume spewing 747 to play golf in Hawaii." According to Knoller, at the same point in their presidencies, Trump has made 30 visits to Palm Beach, a total of 51,540 air miles, while Obama made three vacation trips to Hawaii, totaling 28,978 miles.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The partisan red state/blue state divide over coronavirus restrictions isn't just about ideology, The New York Times reports. The devastation has been disproportionately felt. Counties won by Trump in 2016 have reported just 27% of infections and 21% of the deaths, even though 45% of Americans live there.
  • Without explanation, White House officials changed their minds about imposing a ban late Thursday on foreign travelers from Brazil due to the surge in coronavirus cases there. It will now take effect late Tuesday.
  • Trump tweeted Sunday night: “Schools in our country should be opened ASAP." The tweet tagged a Fox News commentator, Steve Hilton, who shortly before had said the same thing and derided measures like temperature checks as well as "over-prescriptive” and “arbitrary” social distancing rules.
  • The Trump administration’s new strategy for coronavirus testing puts much of the burden on states while promising that the federal government will provide supplies such as swabs and material to transport specimens, The Associated Press reports. Democratic leaders in Congress charged that the strategy is "to deny the truth that there aren’t enough tests and supplies, reject responsibility and dump the burden onto the states.”
  • Trump boasted on Twitter of getting "Great reviews on our handling of Covid 19." He complained in the same tweet about getting "no credit for so doing."
  • The Justice Department is launching an investigation into the shooting death of an unarmed black man in Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery, as a possible federal hate crime, according to attorneys for the victim's family.

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