BY: LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s crowded rallies that contradict local COVID-19 rules and his own administration’s health guidance — saying supporters are exercising their First Amendment rights.
She argued there is a double-standard when it comes to allowing crowds at protests — hours before the Trump campaign announced airport hangar rallies in Nevada planned for this weekend have been cancelled.
After touting the president’s coronavirus response in North Carolina, a reporter asked McEnany at an afternoon White House briefing why the president chose to host a rally there with thousands of people, many not wearing masks, on Tuesday night when the state has limited its outdoor gatherings to 50 people and mandated masks in public.
“People have a First Amendment right if they so choose to show up and express their political opinion in the form of a peaceful protest which is what the president has held and there is a real double standard here,” McEnany said.
“CNN had on a guest, apparently a doctor, Rob Davidson, who said, ‘Now, true, there are social distancing issues with regard to the protests around the country. However, this is a public health crisis. They are marching against systemic racism.’ So if you’re allowed to march in aggregate in those protests, you are also allowed to show up at a political rally. You have a First Amendment right in this country,” she continued.
Shortly after the briefing, the Trump campaign announced its airport hangar rallies scheduled in Nevada this weekend had been cancelled, which presumably would have flouted the state’s COVID-19 restrictions limiting public gathering to 50 people, and said that Trump would instead still hold other events in the state.
The Trump campaign said 15,000 supporters showed up at its airport-hanger rally on Tuesday night, and most attendees were packed together and not wearing masks, despite the state’s restrictions that outdoor gathering shouldn’t exceed 50 persons.
The White House coronavirus task force recently identified North Carolina as having the 18th highest rate of cases in the U.S. and recommended enforced social distancing and mask mandates — but McEnany vehemently defended the gathering on Wednesday.
“If people want to show up and express their political views, that’s their choice to do so. We hand out masks, we encourage the individuals to wear those masks. A lot of people did, I was in North Carolina last night and saw it. We give out hand sanitizer. But at the end of the day, if you want to join a peaceful protest you can do so,” she said.
The government’s top expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, in an interview with CBS Wednesday was asked if it was frustrating to see thousands of people packed in at Trump’s campaign rallies, with no social distancing and few masks — and replied “yes.”
“Well, yes, it is. And I’ve said that often. That situation is — we want to set an example, because we know, we know that when you do four or five typical kind of public health measures — masks, physical distance, avoiding crowds, making sure you do most things outdoors versus indoors – those are the kind of things that turn around surges and also prevent us from getting surges. So I certainly would like to see a universal wearing of masks,” Fauci said.
Trump on Tuesday night also accused the state’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is up for reelection, of imposing coronavirus restrictions to hurt Trump’s re-election chances and urged North Carolinians to vote instead for the Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.
“Your state should be open. It should be open,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd in Winston-Salem.
The president was scheduled to hold airport rallies in Reno and Las Vegas this weekend but both were cancelled, the campaign announced Wednesday afternoon.
Trump 2020 campaign Nevada co-chair Adam Paul Laxalt said in a tweet it was the Nevada governor who cancelled the rallies, in a tweet calling the move “outrageous” and “unprecedented” — but the state’s governor said Wednesday his office still hadn’t received any planning information from the campaign.
Outrageous! @realDonaldTrump rally venues in NV canceled. Welcome to Sisolak’s Nevada – home of partisan political retribution. This is unprecedented – to cancel an incumbent President’s campaign stop inside 60 days of a major contested election in a swing state. This isn’t over!
— Adam Paul Laxalt (@AdamLaxalt) September 9, 2020
Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement that Trump will still travel to Nevada on Saturday and Sunday.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak earlier Wednesday tweeted that his office has “had no involvement or communication with the event organizers or potential hosts regarding the proposed campaign events advertised by the Trump campaign” but suggested a massive rally like the one seen in North Carolina would also not comply with his state’s COVID-19 restrictions put in place because of White House guidance.
The Nevada-specific White House recommendations have consistently included recommendations to limit the size of gatherings for weeks now.
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) September 9, 2020
“Current statewide emergency directives include mandatory face coverings, limitations on public and private gatherings to no more than 50 people, and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Sisolak wrote.
“The Nevada-specific White House recommendations have consistently included recommendations to limit the size of gatherings for weeks now,” he added.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson, Jordyn Phelps, Will Steakin, Justin Gomez, Terrance Smith, and Soo Rin Kim contributed to this report.
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