WASHINGTON – Several top Republican lawmakers said they would skip the Republican National Convention as coronavirus cases climb in Florida, where President Donald Trump is set to accept the party's nomination in August before a large crowd.
The RNC backed out of Charlotte, North Carolina, last month and picked Jacksonville as the main site for the convention after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles wouldn't commit to allowing a full convention because of health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On a Monday conference call with local reporters, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, at age 86 the oldest Republican senator, said he would avoid the convention "because of the virus situation."
Grassley said he has attended every RNC since he was elected to the Senate in 1980.
Since the convention was moved, Jacksonville has begun requiring that face masks be worn in public and indoor locations as a health precaution.
Florida has seen a dramatic uptick in coronavirus cases over the last month, setting new daily records in the past few weeks. The state saw more than 210,000 total infections and 3,840 deaths as of Tuesday.
Trump himself signaled he was "flexible" on holding the convention in Jacksonville as coronavirus cases climb.
"It really depends on the timing. Look, We can do a lot of things, but we're very flexible," he said in a Tuesday interview on Greta Van Susteren's "Full Court Press."
Other Republican lawmakers have said they will skip the convention or are undecided on attending, though they did not explicitly reference the coronavirus risk.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is retiring at the end of the year, said Tuesday through a spokesperson he would not be attending the convention.
Spokesperson Taylor Haulsee said the senator, despite being an honorary chair of the Tennessee Trump campaign, would not attend "because he believes the delegate spots should be reserved" for those who have not attended the convention before.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, "does not plan to attend the convention at this time," spokesperson Karina Borger told USA TODAY.
Following widespread protests over racial injustice and outrage over Trump's response, Murkowski said she is struggling over whether she can support the president in November.
"I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time," she said in June.
In a set of tweets, the president appeared to respond, vowing to campaign against her and back any other candidate running, no matter the person. Murkowski is up for reelection in 2022.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said through a spokesperson to USA TODAYthat she would not be attending the convention because it was her custom not to attend the convention in years she was up for reelection.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, "won’t be attending the RNC convention,” spokesperson Arielle Mueller told USA TODAY.
His office did not specify whether his absence would be due to COVID-19 or for other reason, though Romney and the president have had a turbulent relationship.
In February, saying the president committed "an appalling abuse of the public trust," Romney voted to convict Trump on the first article of impeachment following the Senate trial, becoming the first senator ever to vote against his own party's president in an impeachment trial.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told local reporters at the end of June he would make a decision depending on the virus situation.
"We'll see where we are in late August," Portman said at the time. "If I go, I'm going to go taking precautions."
On Tuesday, Sen. Joni Ernst told reporters she also is planning to attend, though it would likely be "one day in and out."
"But that may change," she said. "We certainly need to monitor what's going on on the ground."
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday he was "probably not" going to the RNC.
"Well, I have some things to do in Kansas that I got to do, Roberts, 84, said. "And unfortunately I didn’t know what was canceled and what was not or whatever so I will probably not be."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also declined to say whether he would attend.
Asked by reporters in an event in Covington, Kentucky, on Thursday if he would attend the convention, McConnell, 78, called the convention a "challenging situation" and said, "we'll have to wait and see how things look in late August" to determine whether it would be safe.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, talked today in Kentucky about his stance on whether he will attend the Republican convention in Jacksonville, Florida. @Enquirer pic.twitter.com/m9Onp0pvzQ
— Chris Mayhew (@reportermayhew) July 9, 2020
Additionally, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the second-most senior Republican in the House, "has yet to decide if he will attend the convention this year," spokesperson Ryan Kelly said.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told the Wichita Falls Times-Record News, part of the USA TODAY Network, he was not attending because he was retiring from Congress this year.
Republicans have been wrestling with Trump's response to the protests and coronavirus, with some pleading for him to tone down his rhetoric.
Contributing: Wichita Falls Times-Record, Des Moines Register, Cincinnati Enquirer
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Several Republican senators say they will not attend the convention