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GOP senators pass on Republican National Convention as coronavirus cases surge

Washington — A growing number of Republican senators are opting out of this year's Republican National Convention, skipping the upcoming gathering where President Trump will accept the GOP presidential nomination.

Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will both sit out the event scheduled to take place in late August, CBS News has confirmed. Grassley, who is 86, told reporters he is "not going to go because of the virus situation," according to the Des Moines Register. This year's convention marks the first the Iowa senator will not attend in 40 years.

In addition to Grassley and Alexander, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah also will not be attending the convention, his spokeswoman said. Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, did not go to the 2016 convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski is likewise opting out of the August event, and a spokesperson for Maine Senator Susan Collins said she "never made plans to attend the convention because she has never attended the national convention in years when she is up for election."

Other Republicans including Indiana Senators Mike Braun of Indiana and Joni Ernst of Iowa are planning to be at the convention, while a spokesperson for Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said he "plans to attend pending the safety and security precautions and guidelines issued by the CDC."

The coronavirus pandemic has upended this year's Republican gathering, which is scheduled to take place August 21 to August 27. While initially set to occur in Charlotte, North Carolina, the pandemic derailed those plans and led the GOP to split the event between North Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida.

Official business of the convention will still take place in Charlotte, but other events including Mr. Trump's acceptance of the Republican presidential nomination will be held in Jacksonville.

But Florida, which was one of the earliest to begin reopening, has now emerged as an epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S., and the state is experiencing a spike in hospitalizations and confirmed infections. 

Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told CNN in an interview Sunday it's "too early to tell" whether it's safe to hold the convention events in Jacksonville in just over a month. But the Republican National Committee stressed its commitment to "holding a safe convention that fully complies with local health regulations in place at the time," and convention attendees will be tested daily and undergo temperature checks, the Jacksonville 2020 Host Committee said Tuesday.

Alan He and Caitlin Huey-Burns contributed to this report.

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