Party leaders echo Biden and suggest big changes for Dem convention, leave DNC scrambling for plan B

Former Vice President Joe Biden has apparently struck a chord with Democrat Party leaders who seem to be echoing his thoughts about changing the party’s national convention.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, members of the Party are calling for rethinking how the Democratic National Convention will look this year, calling on officials to make changes to the event which is currently scheduled to run July 13 to 16 in Milwaukee.

(Image: PBS screenshot)

“It’s hard to envision that,” Biden told MSNBC in an interview this week, responding to a scenario presented by Brian Williams of party members from all 50 states crammed into a hot arena in just over 100 days, as the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We ought to be able — we were able to do it in the middle of the Civil War all the way through to World War II — have Democratic and Republican conventions and primaries and elections and still have public safety. And we’re able to do both,” the party’s presumed presidential nominee said “But the fact is it may have to be different.”

In an interview with late-night host Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday, Biden again expressed his doubts about the convention proceeding as planned.

The prospect of thousands of party officials, journalists and 4,750 delegates converging on the Wisconsin city in the summer has prompted concern in Democratic leadership, while calls to cancel the event would mean a potentially devastating economic effect following the impact made by the coronavirus outbreak.

Only 22% of Wisconsin residents believe the convention should be held as scheduled in July, according to a  Marquette University Law School poll that was released on Wednesday. But 62% of the state’s residents feel it should not continue as an in-person event. Wisconsin currently has over 1,500 confirmed coronavirus cases with 28 deaths, 12 of which occurred in Milwaukee, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

“It’s more likely that it gets canceled than it happening. That’s 100% true,” DNC superdelegate from Michigan, Alexis Wiley, said, according to CBS News.

“I don’t see where we’re going to be able to all gather in a petri dish in Milwaukee with the coronavirus,” Ian Murray, a superdelegate from Pennsylvania, said, adding that holding the usual convention  is “out of the question at this point.”

“I’d be thinking about how to do a virtual convention, because you just have to — you have to consider all the options at this moment,” former 2008 and 2016 Democratic conventions CEO Leah Daughtry said, echoing remarks made by Biden.

The former vice president pushed “absentee balloting” in his MSNBC interview, predicting that the coronavirus pandemic effect on the general election is that it “may be virtual.”

Daughtry noted that while “the convention business must be done, you must elect a nominee,” the process could be different, with options including a delegates-only “downsized convention.”

The CEO of the Milwaukee convention, Joe Solmonese, also expressed that the current pandemic has created challenges to the party which “require us to be deeply thoughtful about the important and unprecedented moment in which we’re living.”

“As we continue to put plans in place for a successful Democratic National Convention this summer, we will balance protecting the health and well-being of convention attendees and our host city with our responsibility to deliver this historic and critical occasion,” Solmonese told CBS News.

UPDATE: The DNC announced Thursday that it would be rescheduling its convention to the week of August 17th, in Milwaukee, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, Republicans are planning to stick with plans to hold its four-day convention to re-nominate President Trump the week of August 24th in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Here we go,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted in response to the CBS News story. “Of course the media will try to press Republicans to do the same.”

Republican National Convention spokeswoman Blair Ellis said last week that convention organizers “remain in communication with local, state and federal officials, and we will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with all stakeholders and health authorities to ensure every necessary precaution is taken into account.”

“We continue to prioritize the health and safety of delegates, media, guests, community members and staff, and we have full faith and confidence in the administration’s aggressive actions to address COVID-19,” she noted.

Democrat Party leaders in Wisconsin are reportedly growing frustrated with the lack of direction from the DNC and convention organizers. St. Louis alderwoman and DNC member Megan Green believes DNC Chairman Tom Perez should be “getting a ball rolling on a Plan B, and how to make sure that we can keep all of our standard procedures in place and still have an environment where we don’t necessarily have to physically congregate.”

“We’re not necessarily getting information from the DNC every single day,” Ron Harris, chairman of the DNC’s Midwestern Caucus, said. “Their charge has been ‘Hey, business as usual — until it’s not.'”

South Carolina State Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter noted that “there is no word about the potential of a virtual convention.”

“Perhaps they have had those conversations – the leadership, the team, whoever ‘they’ are – but it would be nice to share that information,” the DNC member and president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, added.

“Would I love for things to move forward? Absolutely,” Yvette Lewis, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said, pushing back on the criticisms. “But that’s not even a consideration, nor should it be, at this point, it is how to get us out of this.”

The safety of the delegates remains a top priority as the future looms with so many unknowns. An April 20 tour of the convention site for state party leaders was postponed, according to Vicki Hiatt, chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party.

“There’s going to be a serious fear factor of large gatherings for the foreseeable future in this country and that’s going to be a problem for any large gathering, and that’s not an unrealistic question or problem that we’re going to have to contend with,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said.

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Frieda Powers

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