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RNC Plans For Scaled-Back GOP Convention In August

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Republican Party was planning a big convention in Jacksonville, Fla., next month, but it's scaling back. Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the party is adjusting to comply with state and local health guidelines. COVID cases, of course, are surging in Florida. You might remember the convention was originally supposed to be in North Carolina, but it was moved when the governor there insisted on restrictions because of the virus. NPR's Tamara Keith is covering the Trump campaign. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

KING: So what's the new convention plan in Jacksonville look like?

KEITH: Yeah, so as you say, President Trump had wanted so badly to have a big indoor convention with no masks and no social distancing, so badly that he moved it to another state - to another city. So instead, today, McDaniel announced in this email to RNC members reality - they acknowledged reality. It will be a vastly scaled-back convention that will not fill an arena or an outdoor stadium, that will allow for social distancing, and masks will be required because of a city mandate there in Jacksonville.

So even though they were venue shopping, trying to get more favorable rules, the virus struck back because of Jacksonville's mask mandate. Also, the state of Florida is under an executive order that says venues must operate at under 50% capacity. You know, they had been talking about 20,000 people in an arena; now the most they're talking about is 7,000 on the night that Trump accepts his nomination. That is roughly the number of people that were in that rally in Tulsa that was deeply disappointing and that, last night, likely led to the demotion of campaign manager Brad Parscale.

KING: You know, I know that there's very little that surprises you at this point.

KEITH: (Laughter).

KING: But is this a surprise, given how dug in the president seemed to make this a big event?

KEITH: No, you could have seen this one coming miles and miles away. The president even acknowledged in a recent interview that cases were spiking and that they needed to be flexible. In a call with reporters yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence essentially previewed what was to come, said that the convention was a work in progress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: There's consideration being given to having the convention in an outdoor setting and also putting the kind of measures in place that put the health of all of those that are participating - our delegates, visitors and anyone else that's present - we'll put the health of everyone participating first.

KEITH: Remarkably, in her email to party members, McDaniel still argued that North Carolina's Democratic governor had been playing politics. It turns out he may just have been reading the writing on the wall with coronavirus. It's also worth noting that some of the business of the convention will still happen in North Carolina so that they aren't in breach of contract. You know, she has said that they hope to have had a traditional convention, but we're being made to comply with local health guidelines.

KING: What are the health precautions that Vice President Pence mentioned in that clip we just played?

KEITH: Yeah, so McDaniel is saying that they will have programming every night in the evening, some daytime events and festivities. Probably won't have a lot of people partying at bars, though. And they're going to be using a bunch of different venues. They've contracted with both the indoor VyStar Memorial Arena but also outdoor venues. They're going to have health protocols, including available PPE, onsite temperature checks, aggressive hand sanitizing protocols and available COVID testing. But we don't know exactly what that will look like or what it will mean because right now testing is taking seven to 10 days to come back in many cases.

KING: NPR's Tamara Keith covering the White House. Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.