In a surprising announcement Thursday, President Trump said the portion of the Republican National Convention taking place in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was set to deliver a speech accepting the GOP nomination, is cancelled. Citing a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in that state, President Trump said "the timing for this event is not right, just not right with what has happened recently, the flare-up in Florida, to have a big convention is not the right time."
The president said he "felt it was wrong" to have people going to a hot spot, adding that he "didn't want to take any chances." President Trump said "safety, just safety" was his main concern even though his advisers told him it would be possible to hold a safe and responsible convention. "It's a different world and it will be for a while," the president added.
Mr. Trump said it was important for him to set an example by cancelling his big convention speech. "We also have to set an example. I think setting the example is very important. It's hard for us to say we are going to have a lot of people packed in a room, and then other people couldn't do it," President Trump said. "There is nothing more crowded than a convention," he added.
CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports the decision to cancel is a big turn for the president who earlier this summer demanded a convention with "a crowd-like setting" without social distancing or face masks. It was one of the main reasons the Republican National Committee moved significant parts of the nominating convention from Charlotte to Jacksonville. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, would not promise to allow thousands of delegates and attendees into the Spectrum Arena for the celebration.
But Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, immediately offered his state as a place to hold the convention. The official business of the convention, which was set to take place in Charlotte, will still go on in North Carolina, President Trump said. RNC delegates will still meet in Charlotte and conduct the nominating process, virtual rallies, and other party business there. But there will be no big, splashy acceptance speech from Mr. Trump. "I'll still do a convention speech in a different form," President Trump said. "But we won't do a big, crowded convention per se. It is just not the right time for that."
CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell notes that Republican and Democrats are weighing in. The Trump campaign released a statement Thursday applauding the president for putting "the health and safety of the American people first" by calling off the convention. "The President has built the most innovative political campaign in history and will provide exciting, informative, and enthusiastic programming so Republicans can celebrate the re-nomination of President Trump and Vice President Pence," said Trump Campaign Manager Bill Stepien. "We look forward to celebrating the historic achievements of the administration and exposing what Joe Biden is – the empty vessel, Trojan Horse candidate used by the extreme left to advance their radical agenda."
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a tweet that the president is "focused on leading the American people during this unprecedented crisis." She added in a tweet, "His number one priority in this decision was the safety of the people of Jacksonville, the convention attendees, and all of the American people." The Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee said in a statement that the president "made the absolute right decision for the health and safety of the people of Jacksonville and of the entire state of Florida" by calling off the event. "The rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida is serious and the President and the RNC have demonstrated great concern for the safety of all Floridians," said the Host Committee.
In an interview with Mitchell, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters said that while he thinks the convention could have been hosted safely and people were still pushing for the event to take place, he thinks the president ultimately made the best decision. "We were gonna throw him the biggest party that the Florida has ever seen and we were gonna make it a memorable experience for everybody," said Gruters. "It's somewhat disappointing but I understand because we're dealing with this crisis, that we have to be amenable to changes…I think it was a selfless act by the President to call it off and we'll move forward and we're on the way to victory."
In a joint statement, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams — who recently expressed significant concerns about the viability of the convention — said they appreciate the president's consideration of public health. "We appreciate President Donald Trump considering our public health and safety concerns in making this incredibly difficult decision," said Curry and Williams. "As always, in Jacksonville, public safety is our number one priority. President Trump has once again reaffirmed his commitment to the safety of Jacksonville Florida and the people of the United States of America." Political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson notes that at least five Republican senators in recent weeks said they were not going to attend the convention, and others expressed concern about having an event where coronavirus cases were spiking.
CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe reports that Democratic Party officials say their party made this decision weeks ago and that because of their earlier choice to scale back, they have a head start. "...I wonder who will have the better convention – the party who recognized the limitations early on and have been planning for a mostly virtual/digital television production to capitalize on a prime time audience of millions," posed one Democratic strategist involved in convention planning. "Or the clowns who keep moving theirs from place to place and have no concrete plan a month out." Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said in a statement she's glad the president "took his head out of the sand long enough to realize what a predictable, preventable disaster he was about to inflict on the city of Jacksonville." Rizzo added, "His ego-driven political stunt has wasted precious time and resources during a pandemic, and Floridians will remember his reckless leadership in November."
FROM THE CANDIDATES
The campaign-produced conversation between Joe Biden and Barack Obama on Thursday featured a broad look at Biden's presidential candidacy, pointing out differences in healthcare and economic policy regarding the pandemic with the Trump administration and also painting a character contrast with the president, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports.
The fifteen-minute discussion was broadcast to Mr. Obama's large social media following and has the opportunity to reach Americans who may now be tuning in to the presidential election a little more than 100 days away. Mr. Obama's key focus was serving as a character witness for Biden. The 44th president said he is confident in a potential Biden administration because they will "send a signal of decency and regard and concern and community around the country." Mr. Obama said "for all the specific policies that we are going to need" to address the pandemic "more than anything, it is just that basic decency and an understanding of what's best in America that I think people are going to be hungry for."
On approaching the pandemic with policy, Mr. Obama asserted "you can't separate out the public health crisis from the economy. If you want the economy growing again people have to feel safe." Advocating for Biden's proposed "public option" healthcare plan, which would offer Americans the choice to opt-in to a Medicare-like plan, Mr. Obama said this is within reach because his administration passed the "starter house" version: the Affordable Care Act. "You know what it's like as much as anybody to be in the White House during crisis. You know what it's like to have to get laws passed through Congress, you know what it's like to deal with foreign leaders, you know what it's like — and how lonely it can be — to make tough decisions where not every decision is going to be perfect but you gotta make 'em," Mr. Obama said in conclusion, "And to take responsibility for it."
The former VP also announced Wednesday he had beefed up his Pennsylvania operation with four new senior staffers, including two with experience in the western portion of the state, according to CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. Larry Hailsham Jr., Western political coordinator for Senator Bob Casey's 2018 Senate run, will serve as Biden's political director in the state.
He most recently worked as a government affairs manager for the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. Amy Dorra, who was Rep. Conor Lamb's political director as he flipped the state's 18th District and then its 17th District after the state's congressional map was redrawn, was named Biden's deputy coordinated political director in Pennsylvania.
Michael Feldman, who worked on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign in Pennsylvania, will helm Biden's communications operation in the state. He most recently was the deputy communications director for Protect Our Care, a liberal advocacy group with a prime goal of protecting the Affordable Care Act. Nandi O'Connor, who worked as the digital director of the new anti-Trump coalition Organizing Together 2020 PA and as the Pennsylvania content producer for the Political Action Committee Priorities USA, will serve as Biden's coordinated digital director in the state. The announcement came two weeks after Biden's campaign announced the hiring of Brendan McPhillips as state director and Sinceré Harris as senior advisor in the state.
LIFE AFTER 2020
Former presidential candidate Tom Steyer is holding his fourth fundraising event for the Biden campaign today and has already raised more than $12 million for the presumptive Democratic nominee. As a co-chair of the Climate Engagement Advisory Council for the Biden campaign, Steyer has been holding virtual events and reaching out to different communities around environmental justice so they can hear about Biden's priorities.
CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar says Steyer, who campaigned on the promise of making climate change his main focus if elected, also challenged the former VP on the debate stage in November to say that tackling environmental issues would be the number one priority for a Biden administration. Now, Steyer says Biden's climate plan, which was released last week and calls for $2 trillion in spending over four years, reflects a "very progressive and thoughtful and people driven approach." Steyer said the plan combines job security with environmental and racial justice, creating a suite of issues that represent Biden's number one priority. Steyer also predicted turnout in the November presidential election will be "by far the biggest in American history" and urged young voters to make a statement.
CBS NEWS COVID CHRONICLES
CBS News is chronicling what has changed for the lives of Americans in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. In Texas, the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest in the state, plans to start the fall semester virtually on September 8. The district plans to phase in in-person schooling after six weeks, though that goal may change. Parents can also disregard in-person start dates and keep their children home all semester or all year. One student group worried about school safety wants to weigh in. The Houston Independent School District Student Congress (HISD StuCo), a 70-member group of students from across the district, believes HISD ought to make the entire fall semester virtual and concentrate on building out a substantial online education experience for students.
"We took kids out of school in March when in Houston there were 30 cases. But now we're thinking about taking kids back to school in October when who knows how many cases there could be. So, what changed between now and then? And why is it safe now to send kids back to school and it wasn't safe before," StuCo speaker Jennifer Hadad wonders.
Hamad, a rising senior at Houston Heights High School, told CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte that the group wants to empower students to "become change-makers within their district." They've created a survey for HISD teachers, parents, and students to share their thoughts on reopening. It discovered that most respondents want fall classes to remain virtual until it's safe to return, a moment they mark with the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine. Participants were asked if they prefer school remain virtual until there is a vaccine, and 74% said they agreed, while 18% disagreed. The majority felt a hybrid model combining in-person and virtual schooling would be no safer than a full time in-person semester — 58.6% agreed while 25.7% "strongly disagreed" or "disagreed."
ISSUES THAT MATTER
President Trump has declined to say whether he would accept the results of the election in November. Constitutional scholars and election experts contend that a president cannot dismiss the results of the election and hold on to power, CBSN political reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns reports.
"It is not up to President Trump, and the country does not have to satisfy him that he has lost," says Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University and a CBS News legal analyst. "The Secret Service on Inauguration Day is under the direction of the new president. Upon the oath of office taken by his successor, President Trump becomes a guest in the White House. If he remains, he becomes an unwelcome guest. If he refuses to leave, he becomes an arrested guest."
However, Turley says, the president (and any presidential campaign) can challenge the result in a given state, though there are rigid time constraints. Requests for recounts are permitted in 43 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some of those states require the margin between candidates to be below a certain threshold. There is some concern among election experts about the impact of the president's rhetoric. Given the political divide on mail-in voting and Mr. Trump's previous comments, he could try to disparage absentee ballots if they don't match up with the results of the in-person votes. Mr. Trump has already raised questions about the legitimacy of the results in such a scenario, complaining the process will be rigged – though there is little evidence of fraud. "The worst case scenario is that there is confusion or it is disputed on January 6 as to what the outcome is," says says Edward Foley, a constitutional law professor at The Ohio State University.
CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster adds that a group of 30 grassroots and advocacy organizations have joined a group called Protect the Results to mobilize people if President Trump refuses to accept the election results. The organization is a joint project of liberal organizations Stand Up America and Indivisible. The groups who joined on Thursday – including many progressive groups – will be launching digital ads to encourage people to join the network. The announcement comes after President Trump told Fox News' Chris Wallace on Sunday, he would "have to see," when asked if he would accept the election results. "I'm not going to just say yes. I'm not going to say no, and I didn't last time either," Mr. Trump said.
Traditional unemployment claims rose last week for the first time in nearly four months, a sign that the jobs recovery may be stalling as the coronavirus pandemic continues, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. About 1.4 million workers filed traditional jobless claims for the week ending July 18, the first time that metric has increased since late March, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. Another 975,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits, a program to help self-employed and gig workers. This was the 17th straight week that total jobless claims topped two million. For the week ending July 4, nearly 32 million people were claiming unemployment benefits, which is about a fifth of the American workforce. At the end of the month, the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits from the federal government is set to expire. Lawmakers are meeting this week to negotiate a plan that may extend benefits, but could adjust how much money people receive each week.
President Trump's deployment of federal agents to Albuquerque Wednesday caused a backlash from Democrats across New Mexico, as the state's Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham – a potential contender to be Joe Biden's running mate – warned against a potential "exercise meant only to escalate tension in New Mexico communities."
Democrats fear a reprisal of the clashes that took place between protesters and federal agents in Portland and accuse the president of "trying to win political points," though the Trump administration insisted the move was focused on curbing violent crime in Albuquerque. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin reports Republicans in New Mexico hailed the move, echoing the "law and order" ads that have blanketed New Mexico airwaves from the president's campaign. "President Trump continues to provide police officers the support they need to keep New Mexicans safe. President Trump prioritizes safety, Joe Biden caves to lawlessness," Trump Victory spokesperson Andres Malave declared Thursday in an email.
IN THE HOUSE
House race ratings are continuing to shift in the favor of Democrats, the latest coming from Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia. With the exception of Democrat Ron Kind's race in Wisconsin's 3rd District, seven House seats moved towards Democrats. Iowa's open seat in the 2nd District and Democrat incumbent Xochitl Torres Small's race in New Mexico's 2nd District changed from "Toss-Up" to "Leans Democratic." In Texas, Republican Chip Roy's race against Democrat Wendy Davis shifted from "Leans Republican" to "Toss-up." CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that Davis' campaign released an internal poll showing her tied with Roy and Biden leading Trump by 3 points in this district just north of San Antonio.
A day after saying President Trump "wants to instigate a race war" by sending federal troops to Portland, Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush introduced legislation on Thursday to issue licensing standards for police. His POLICE Act (Providing Officer Licensing to Increase Confidence for Everyone) would require officers to pass federally mandated policing standards and be licensed to serve their communities. The standards would be reviewable every 5 years, and have each state establish their own licensing and education programs for officers.
On Wednesday, Rush claimed Trump has been stoking racial flames in order to win re-election. "He wants to have Black folks fighting White folks. So he can rise up and say, 'I'm the real Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and I'm the President. Re-elect me. That's what he's trying to do," he said on Sirius XM. He also objects to troops being sent into Chicago: "Anytime you send a group of armed bandits...no name, no insignias...and you just snatch up innocent people and you take them off to some unknown place... you're terrorizing communities."
Also in Illinois, Mike Madigan, the State's House Speaker and chair of the state's Democratic Party, has recently been under federal investigation for his ties to a ComEd bribery scheme. Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis, a vulnerable incumbent Republican, has tried to tie Madigan and the state Democratic party to his Democrat opponent, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan. On Thursday, Navarro says Davis called for Madigan's immediate resignation, saying, "Madigan has been at the center of many scandals, some involving corruption, for years. It's far past time that he step aside so we can begin to restore our state's tarnished reputation."