Trump threatens to move Republican convention over COVID-19 restrictions

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump warned on Monday that he may move the Republican National Convention set for August from North Carolina if the event faces state social distancing restrictions due to the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden to halt campaign rallies. Some have raised concerns that the large formal nominating conventions that are typically packed with delegates could raise safety issues.

Trump said on Twitter that if Democratic Governor Roy Cooper does not immediately answer "whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied," then the party will find "with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site."

The conventions include prime-time TV speeches that serve to kick off the final sprint toward the November presidential election. The Republican event is set to start Aug. 24 in Charlotte.

Cooper's office said in a statement Monday that "state health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte. North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state's public health and safety."

Later, Trump tweeted he had "zero interest" in moving the convention to his Trump National Doral golf resort near Miami. "Ballroom is not nearly big enough," he wrote.

In October, Trump abandoned plans to host the G7 summit at Doral after Democrats and others had decried the selection as evidence of the president misusing his office for personal gain.

Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News it was "absolutely essential" that Cooper give a "swift response" or the convention could be moved to a state "farther along on reopening."

The Democratic National Convention, which was postponed by a month because of the coronavirus, is set to begin Aug. 17 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

A spokeswoman for the DNC event said earlier this month the convention would follow health officials' "guidance to determine how many people can safely gather in Milwaukee this August."

Trump won North Carolina by 3.7% in 2016. Biden's campaign thinks the state is one of many that went for Trump that are up for grabs this year.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown)