Brian Kemp offers to “safely host” GOP convention in Georgia after COVID-19 cases spike over holiday

Kemp offered Georgia as an alternative to North Carolina after his state reported 2,100 new cases over the weekend

By Igor Derysh

Published May 26, 2020 4:43PM (EDT)

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp  (AP/John Amis)
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (AP/John Amis)

Even as the state COVID-19 cases in Georgia surged over Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Brian Kemp claimed Tuesday that his state could "safely host" the Republican National Convention should President Donald Trump follows through on his threat to pull it from North Carolina.

Trump lashed out at North Carolina over the weekend after Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said science would dictate how many people could attend the convention, which is scheduled to take place in Charlotte in late August.

Trump complained that Cooper was "unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed...full attendance in the Arena." The president demanded that Cooper "immediately" announce if the GOP would be able to pack the arena in three months — and threatened to relocate the convention otherwise.

Kemp on Tuesday offered Georgia as a potential replacement site.

"With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention. We hope you will consider the Peach State," he said in a tweet addressed to Trump.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who is up for re-election amid allegations of insider trading, said she "totally" agreed with Kemp.

"Georgia is open for business," she tweeted, "and we have what it takes to safely and successfully host the Republican National Convention, Mr. President!"

Kemp's claim that Georgia could "safely host" the convention came after the state reported a surge of 2,100 new COVID-19 cases over Memorial Day weekend. Following an initial decline in cases after the state reopened a month ago, cases in Georgia have bounced back and are now on an upward trajectory.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, warned that there was an "unmistakable" uptick in hospitalizations in states like Georgia that have reopened. 

"I'm concerned there are people who think this is the all-clear," he told CNBC.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms pushed back on Kemp's invitation.

"Like North Carolina, the city of Atlanta is following a phased, data-driven approach to reopening. That plan does not contemplate hosting a large gathering event in August," the mayor's office said in a statement to WSB-TV. "In fact, several long-standing city-supported and sponsored events have already been canceled in order to comply with CDC guidelines."

Cooper's office said in a statement in response to Trump's tweet that the state was "relying on data and science to protect our state's public health and safety."

Cooper told CNN last week that he supported holding the convention in Charlotte but would let the science dictate the restrictions.

"This is not political. This is not emotional. This is based on health experts, data and science and that's it for everybody to see," he said. "No one is being favored or disfavored over the other . . . We are looking at these objective measures that everybody can see — that the public can examine."

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told Fox News on Tuesday that "a lot of states" have inquired about hosting the convention following Trump's threat.

"We want to have it in North Carolina. The president loves North Carolina. It's just the governor, and he's got to work with us. Every state we talk to is saying, 'We want to nominate the president here.' They're so excited to have that," she claimed. "But this governor is up for re-election. He hasn't given us the assurances we need. We need to be able to move forward in a concrete way."

Vice President Mike Pence floated Georgia, Florida and Texas as potential replacement sites in the event that Charlotte falls through. 

"These national conventions literally take many months to organize and prepare," he told Fox News. "The president is absolutely intent on ensuring, as we see our nation continue to make steady progress on putting the coronavirus epidemic in the past, that come this August, we'll be able to come together in a safe and responsible venue."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Tuesday that "Florida would love" to host the convention and vowed that it could be done "in accordance with whatever safety requirements."

Democrats, meanwhile, are considering a scaled-back convention after already postponing it from July to August. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said that "it remains to be seen" if he will even attend the event himself.

"I plan on campaigning in Milwaukee, and I hope there is a convention in Milwaukee," Biden told WISN-TV last week. "It may not be as robust a convention. It may be a social distancing thing. It may be smaller. I don't know. I can't ordain what that's going to be, but I plan to campaign in Milwaukee."

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's Deputy News and Politics Editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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