By MOLLY NAGLE, KENDALL KARSON, JOHN VERHOVEK, and BEATRICE PETERSON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Former Vice President Joe Biden and the rest of the planned convention speakers will not travel to Wisconsin for the quadrennial Democratic National Convention, according to a release from its committee Wednesday, citing health concerns with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“After ongoing consultation with public health officials and experts — who underscored the worsening coronavirus pandemic — the Democratic National Convention Committee announced today speakers for the 2020 Democratic National Convention will no longer travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in order to prevent risking the health of our host community as well as the convention’s production teams, security officials, community partners, media and others necessary to orchestrate the event,” the release said.
Biden, who was scheduled to accept the party’s nomination in the key battleground state on Aug. 20, will now accept the nomination from Delaware.
“In accordance with this guidance, Vice President Joe Biden will no longer travel to Milwaukee and will instead address the nation and accept the Democratic nomination from his home state of Delaware. Details about the location of the speech will be released at a later time. Other speakers who had been planning to come to Milwaukee will not travel to the city,” the announcement continued.
Less than two weeks out, the sudden changes to the convention, an event that historically takes years to plan and is the capstone of the party’s nominating process that typically attracts thousands of supporters and party loyalists, has effectively been reduced to an entirely virtual affair.
“From the very beginning of this pandemic, we put the health and safety of the American people first. We followed the science, listened to doctors and public health experts, and we continued making adjustments to our plans in order to protect lives. That’s the kind of steady and responsible leadership America deserves. And that’s the leadership Joe Biden will bring to the White House,” Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said in a statement along with the announcement.
The convention was initially scheduled to take place in mid-July, but was pushed back to August over concerns about the coronavirus outbreak back in April.
Democrats had already significantly scaled back the convention, announcing in late June that officials were planning for a mix of in-person and virtual elements. But over the last two months, as the coronavirus hobbled planning, organizers further pared back the event, urging members of Congress, state delegations and delegates not to travel to Wisconsin. Delegates are also voting entirely by online ballot, which began on Aug. 3 and will run until Aug. 15, two days before the convention kicks off. The results are expected to be announced on Aug. 17, the first night of the event.
A source with knowledge of DNC convention plans in Milwaukee described the news as “definitely a gut punch.” The source tells ABC News several officials have been left in the dark since the DNCC begin laying off staff in May.
“They were trying to figure out what they’re going to do with the convention, how we’re going to do it and what would be done,” the source said.
“This is definitely a disappointing, missed opportunity. It’s not the DNC’s fault, they were doing everything. It’s the coronavirus.” The source added, “This is a failure of the administration not taking s–t seriously.”
Despite the lack of presence in Milwaukee, the Democratic National Convention will still air in primetime for two hours each night from Aug. 17-20, with remarks from the former vice president on the evening of Aug. 20 and his highly anticipated vice presidential pick the night before. The gathering will include both taped segments and live broadcasts.
Convention speakers are still expected to be in virtual locations across the country, according to the newest announcement from organizers. Details have yet to be released on exactly where those satellite locations will be.
“This convention will look different than any previous convention in history. It will reach more people than ever before, and truly be a convention across America for all Americans, regardless of which party you belong to or who you’ve voted for in previous elections. This ‘unconventional’ convention will launch Joe Biden to victory in November,” Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, said in a statement.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who officially endorsed Biden earlier this week, issued a statement on Wednesday on the news, arguing that the decision reflects the presumptive Democratic nominee’s commitment to the protection of the public health.
“It has never been more important for elected officials to lead by example—that’s the kind of leader Joe is, and that’s the kind of president we need. I know he will continue to have a presence in Wisconsin, virtually or otherwise, and I look forward to doing everything we can to win Wisconsin,” Evers said.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes also reacted to the news with a single angry emoji, reflecting the frustration of many over what many believed would be a celebratory convention anchored in a key swing state.
As recently as July 23, Biden publicly said he intended to accept the nomination in Milwaukee, but cautioned that all decisions around the convention should be made in accordance with guidance from health officials.
“In contrast with what Donald Trump and Republicans are doing, our top priority is going to be the health and safety of the people of Milwaukee. Any decision will be guided by science and public health, period. Milwaukee is still the anchor of our convention,” Biden said in an interview with a Milwaukee news affiliate last month.
Just last week, party officials released a schedule of events that included a statement from Perez that said the event would be “anchored” in Milwaukee — underscoring how abruptly and on-the-fly planning has changed.
Despite Democrats holding out hope for an in-person event in some form, Biden has often warned about the impact COVID-19 could have on the gathering. Shortly after the date change to August was announced, the former vice president speculated on what form the convention would take due to the virus during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
“We’re going to have to do a convention. We may have to do a virtual convention. I think we should be thinking about that right now,” Biden told ABC News’ Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in April.
“Again let’s see where it is — and what we do between now and then is going to dictate a lot of that as well. But my point is that I think you just got to follow the science.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.