Houston’s Democratic mayor moved to block the Republican Party of Texas from holding a massive indoor convention in his city on Wednesday, citing an exploding number of coronavirus cases in the city.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) pushed Houston First, a public-private partnership that owns the George R. Brown Convention Center, where the event was to take place, to cancel the party’s contract.
That move came through Wednesday afternoon, scuttling the GOP’s plans to hold an indoor convention of at least 5,000 people, even as the city has seen its highest number of COVID cases to date in recent days.
State Republicans had been full steam ahead on the convention until Turner’s move, and it’s unclear exactly what they’ll do now.
“We are moving forward unless we are prevented from doing so and we are not currently seeing any indication that we would be prevented from doing so,” Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey told VICE News earlier on Wednesday, before Turner’s move.
But Dickey said that the party was planning an emergency backup contingency to hold the convention online in case they were legally barred from holding it in person.
Dickey and the party didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment for whether they’d fight Turner’s order, but multiple Republicans privately told VICE News that it might be a blessing in disguise for their party. Having a Democratic mayor cancel the event allows GOP leaders to to avoid having to cross a restive base that isn’t taking the pandemic very seriously, while also avoiding the risk of a super-spreader event caused by their unwillingness to cancel a massive indoor rally.
The convention had been Republicans’ best chance to hold a major indoor event before the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Fla. in late August, but the state and city have seen explosions in the number of COVID cases and are at risk of seeing their hospitals run out of beds to treat new cases.
President Trump may force some more indoor rallies like the one he held in Tulsa a few weeks ago, though it’s looking less and less like he’ll be able to do so. Tulsa’s top health official said Wednesday that the rally likely contributed to that city’s recent spike in COVID cases.
Trump’s next rally is planned for a partially outdoor airplane hanger in New Hampshire and he already had to cancel the only other indoor rally he had on the books, in Alabama, because of rising cases there. But it’s unclear whether Republican National Convention in Jacksonville will go any smoother than the one that was just canceled in Houston.
Multiple GOP lawmakers have said they won’t attend, and it’s unclear whether the city’s mayor will be willing to lift social distancing and mask-wearing rules for Trump to hold the massive, crowded rally he wants to hold in a few weeks’ time.
Cover: Sylvester Turner, mayor of Houston, speaks during a conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Friday, March 9, 2018. (Photo: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images)