Houston Calls Off Texas GOP Convention Amid Virus Surge

Barring any court intervention, the Texas Republican Party’s convention will be online, like the one state Democrats held last month.

Shania Dod, right, collects a sample at a United Memorial Medical Center Covid-19 testing site in Houston on Wednesday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(CN) — The Texas Republican Party said Wednesday it is weighing its legal options after Houston officials canceled the party’s biennial convention due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Thousands of Texas Republicans were planning to attend the convention, which was set for July 16 to July 18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

The party’s executive committee voted 40-20 last week to move forward with the in-person convention, with the majority downplaying the concerns of health officials, Democrats and dissenting party voters who said it was not a good idea as Houston struggles to tamp down a surge in coronavirus cases.

Harris County, whose seat is Houston, set a record high 997 new Covid-19 cases on July 1 and the number of people hospitalized with the virus in the Texas Medical Center, a southeast Houston district with 21 hospitals and numerous medical research institutions, peaked at 446 on Sunday.

A graph of Covid-19 cases in the nine-county Houston region as of July 7. (Image via Texas Medical Center)

State Republican Chair James Dickey said Wednesday the party had planned to take numerous precautions for the biennial convention, including taking the temperature of all attendees, giving them face masks, deep cleaning after every meeting and reconfiguring floor plans to make room for social distancing.

The convention center is owned by the city and operated by the nonprofit Houston First Corp.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday he had instructed Houston First to exercise its contractual right to cancel the convention.

The move marked an about-face for Turner, who last week rejected calls to cancel the event, saying he would leave it up to the convention organizers “to make wise decisions.”

He also reportedly nixed his authority to cancel the convention on June 30 by doing away an executive order that had barred events with more than 50 people in city-owned buildings.

Dickey said the mayor’s move was hypocritical because 60,000 people gathered in downtown Houston on June 2 in a rally and protest over the police killing of Houston native George Floyd.

“After allowing tens of thousands of protestors to peaceably assemble in the same city, in the same area, without any of the safety precautions and measures we have taken, he is seeking to deny a political party’s critical electoral function that should be equally protected under the constitution,” Dickey said in a statement.

Turner shot back on Twitter.

“It is one thing to be talking about an indoor convention where people are in close proximity with each other for a substantial amount of time rather than walking outside in a protest. When people are marching and protesting, no one is making lunch/dinner, cleaning up behind them,” Turner wrote.

After the party voted to go ahead with the convention last week, the Texas Medical Association withdrew as a sponsor, citing the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in the Houston area.

According to data provided by the Texas Medical Center, there were 615 Covid-19 patients in ICU beds in the center’s hospitals as of Tuesday. But its hospitals are far from being overwhelmed with people sickened by the virus like New York City was in April.

Texas did exceed 10,000 new confirmed cases Tuesday for the first time.

Dickey indicated the party is considering filing a lawsuit to try to get court approval for the convention.

“Our legal team is assessing the ability of the city to act at this time in this manner and weighing our legal options. We are prepared to take all necessary steps to proceed in the peaceable exercise of our constitutionally protected rights,” he said.

The Texas Democratic Party said Mayor Turner had made a sensible decision and took the opportunity for a potshot at Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has been criticized by both Democrats and his own party for seesawing on executive orders meant to contain spread of the virus.

“Texas is currently experiencing an uncontrolled surge in coronavirus cases due to the utter failure of Republican leadership at the federal and state levels. Going through with this in-person convention would have been catastrophic and led to even more cases and deaths,” Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said in a statement.

Barring any court intervention, the Texas Republican Party’s convention will be online, and their Democratic counterparts have shown that approach has its advantages.

Texas Democrats received a record of more than $1.5 million in contributions last month during their seven-day virtual convention.

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