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Citing coronavirus, Sen. Chuck Grassley won't attend GOP convention

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, Gov. Kim Reynolds say they still plan to go

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig (left) arrives with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Ju
IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig (left) arrives with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on June 30 for a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley on Monday became the first congressional Republican to say he won’t attend next month’s Republican National Convention in Florida because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The convention was moved to Jacksonville from Charlotte after North Carolina state and local officials would not agree to President Donald Trump’s demands for a crowded, large-scale event in the pandemic.

“I’m not going to go. And I’m not going to go because of the virus situation,” Grassley said Monday on a conference call with reporters, according to the Des Moines Register.

Grassley, 86, is the second-oldest member of the Senate. This will mark the first time in his 40-year Senate tenure he has missed a Republican National Convention, though he kept his visit short to the one four years ago in Cleveland.

Spokesmen for Iowa’s other Republican senator, Joni Ernst, and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday they still planned to attend.

Grassley, a staunch supporter of Trump’s re-election, made the announcement as Florida has experienced a surge in coronavirus cases, with more than 200,000 confirmed infections since late February.

In Duval County, which includes Jacksonville, three new testing sites are opening this week, along with a mobile testing site, according to local TV station Action News Jax.

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Grassley told reporters Monday that while he supports GOP officials holding the event, they should strive to “make it as safe as possible, so that would mean with face masks and with social distancing,” the Register reported.

The host committee for the GOP convention sent a memo to reporters Monday noting that coronavirus testing will be conducted at the event.

“Everyone attending the convention within the perimeter will be tested and temperature checked each day,” Erin Isaac, communications director for the host committee, said in the memo.

Isaac did not detail how the testing would be done. “We’ll provide more information as it is available,” she said.

The decision to move the event from Charlotte to Jacksonville came after Trump tweeted on Memorial Day that he wanted the convention in a city that would allow him to speak in a filled arena. The RNC also indicated that it did not want to require masks for Trump’s speech.

Grassley this week is in Iowa holding events where people attending are asked to wear face masks and maintain social distance.

Grassley’s schedule calls for him to hold events today in Columbus Junction, Mount Pleasant, Mediapolis and Fort Madison. He also is scheduled to hold events later this week in nine other cities in Iowa.

Four years ago, Grassley cited exorbitant hotel costs for his decision to make a “fast in, fast out” visit to the RNC convention in Cleveland.

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He said he was not inclined to go at all, but decided to spend 36 hours there to meet with Iowans who attended the nomination of Trump.

Although he has attended every convention since 1980 — the year he was elected to the Senate — Grassley is not a big fan of the gatherings.

“Every time I got done with a convention I said I never was going to go back to another one, but I keep going back,” Grassley said in 2016.

The Washington Post and James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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