Donald Trump threatened to pull the Republican national convention from North Carolina if the state’s Democratic governor did not allow it to proceed at full capacity, heightening tensions over the resumption of political activities during the coronavirus crisis.
In a series of tweets on Monday, the Memorial day holiday in the US, Mr Trump lashed out at Roy Cooper, the North Carolina governor, saying he was “still in shutdown mood and unable to guarantee” that the Republican convention could be held as planned in the city of Charlotte in August.
“We would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space,” Mr Trump said, adding that he may be “reluctantly forced” to find an alternative site for the convention, which will set the stage for his re-election bid against former vice-president Joe Biden in November.
Mr Cooper responded by tweeting that state health authorities would be working with Republican party officials to “review” their plans. “North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our public health and safety,” he said.
Mr Trump’s attack reveals his growing agitation at the prospect that one of his biggest opportunities to make his case for re-election to the US public could be upended by the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused nearly 92,000 deaths in the US, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
The White House has been pressing hard for states to reopen economic activity across the country, often facing resistance from state governors who are concerned that a second wave of infections could exacerbate the human toll and force new lockdowns.
The Democratic party has already delayed its 2020 convention, which will formally nominate Mr Biden as its candidate for the White House, until August, after originally scheduled for mid-July. The former vice-president last week said the convention, to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, may involve social distancing and might be smaller than normal, as a number of delegates do not attend in person because of the virus and vote remotely instead.
In recent weeks, Mr Trump has also attacked plans by state governors to allow ballots to be mailed in ahead of the November election as a way of preventing long queues at polling sites. The pressure from the president, who claims postal ballots would encourage fraud, has been criticised for ignoring the health risks of in-person voting during a pandemic, and for potentially suppressing participation in the election.
Mr Trump’s threat to pull the Republican national convention from North Carolina came ahead of a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where US presidents traditionally go on Memorial day to pay tribute to America’s fallen soldiers. He later travelled to the Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland, for another Memorial day ceremony.
“As one nation, we mourn alongside every single family that has lost loved ones, including the families of our great veterans. Together, we will vanquish the virus, and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights,” the US president said.
Later in the day, Mr Trump denied that he wanted to move the convention to his Doral resort in Miami, Florida, saying he had “zero interest” in such an alternative.
Mr Trump had hoped to peg his re-election attempt on America’s solid economic performance, but those plans were completely upended by the pandemic, which has infected more than 1.6m Americans and caused nearly 39m to lose their jobs over the past two months, leading to widespread criticism of his handling of the crisis.
Congressional Democrats on Monday attacked Mr Trump’s administration for presenting an inadequate national testing strategy, which is seen as key in order to allow businesses and consumers to return to their pre-crisis activities and habits.
“After six months and nearly 100,000 lives lost, the Trump Administration still does not have a serious plan for increasing testing to stop the spread of the virus,” Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic speaker, and Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, said. “To reopen our economy safely, we need testing to be free, accurate, reliable, and accompanied by tools like contact tracing so we can slow the spread of the virus and prevent outbreaks,” they added.