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Trump Downscales RNC, Says Coronavirus 'Hot Spots' May Need To Delay School Reopening


After months of drama over where and how the Republican National Convention will be held, President Trump has mostly pulled the plug.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I looked at my team, and I said, the timing for this event is not right. It's just not right with what's happened recently - the flare-up in Florida - to have a big convention. It's not the right time.

SHAPIRO: Most of the event, including Trump's speech to accept the nomination, was scheduled to take place in Jacksonville. National political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now for more.

Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: President Trump made this announcement just a short while ago at the White House. What reason did he give for canceling the main part of the convention?

LIASSON: Well, just a few minutes ago, we saw a very chastened and disappointed president in the briefing room bowing to reality. He said, quote, "I just felt it was wrong to have people go to a hot spot." He said there were thousands of people desperate to go to Jacksonville. That might be true. But there were also dozens of members of Congress who said they weren't going. And the sheriff in Jacksonville said it was going to be practically impossible to do the convention safely.

And remember, the whole reason it was moved to Jacksonville was that the city of Charlotte, N.C., where it was originally scheduled to happen, wasn't going to allow the kind of mass maskless gathering that the president originally had in mind. So he moved it to Jacksonville, a more Republican-friendly city. And then the virus changed his plans.

SHAPIRO: But he had been fighting to keep this event in person, even as cases in Florida were increasing dramatically. Why is that changing now?

LIASSON: I think there are a lot of reasons. You saw the sheriff in Jacksonville who said it would be impossible to hold it safely. And Florida is a very important state for Donald Trump. You've seen a lot of polls in Florida, including two polls today where voters said 62- to 34%, they thought it would be unsafe to hold the Republican convention in Jacksonville. Among Republicans, the poll was reversed. Sixty-nine percent thought it would be safe.

But poll after poll has shown that people are more concerned about controlling the virus than reopening the economy. And that includes Florida, where both of those polls that came out today show Biden ahead by double digits and, more importantly, getting about 50% of the vote. Seniors, an extremely important group for President Trump - he won them last time - they're split in Florida, leaning to Biden slightly.

So now you're going to have some small, formal business meetings in Charlotte. They'll officially nominate the president and vice president there, and the president is now saying they'll be doing tele-rallies or virtual events. He said, we'll do something online, but it will be nothing like having 20,000 people. Big crowds are something that he loves to be in front of, and this is not what he had in mind.

SHAPIRO: He also changed his message on schools reopening. Let's hear a little bit of that.


TRUMP: In cities or states that are current hot spots - and you'll see that in the map behind me - districts may need to delay reopening for a few weeks. And that's possible. That'll be up to governors. The decision should be made based on the data and the facts on the grounds in each community.


SHAPIRO: We hear your dog in the background there, Mara. Tell us how this message is a little different from his previous statement that schools must reopen.

LIASSON: This is another instance of the president bowing to reality. He had said before that schools had to open in person or else he would not send them any federal aid. Today, he said, we are going to send new aid to schools. We're going to help schools make new classrooms so they can socially distance, so they can do the kinds of things they need to do. This is a president who's bowing to reality, just like he did at the beginning of the pandemic when he agreed to shut the economy down for 15 days, then 30 days to stop the spread.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson and Buster, thank you very much.

LIASSON: (Laughter) Thank you. Sorry about that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.