WASHINGTON — Chuck Grassley attended his first Republican National Convention in 1980 and hasn’t missed one in the four decades since then.
Don’t expect to see the longest-serving U.S. senator in Iowa history among the GOP officials who gather in Jacksonville, Florida, next month.
“I’m not going to go,” Grassley told reporters on Monday. “And I’m not going to go because of the virus situation.”
Grassley, 86, is the most senior Republican in the Senate and therefore among the highest-ranking Republicans in the country.
His decision to forgo the every-four-years party extravaganza reflects the dilemma currently facing many elected officials as the coronavirus surges in a number of states — including Florida.
This year’s RNC was originally planned for Charlotte, N.C., where some business meetings are still expected to take place.
But President Donald Trump successfully pushed to move the highest-profile elements, including his acceptance speech, to Jacksonville.
That move came after disputes with North Carolina’s Democratic governor over whether measures such as mask wearing and social distancing would be required at the convention.
Virus precautions such as wearing masks have become politically contentious, with skepticism about the wisdom of masks particularly noticeable among some die-hard fans of Trump.
Speaking generally about the effort to contain the virus, Grassley said the federal government could do more to get out a message that emphasizes the best public health recommendations.
“Even though there’s some debate about wearing masks, how valuable it is, we shouldn’t be taking any chances and (should) do it anyway,” Grassley said. “I know it violates some people’s freedom, but they need to do it. Keep your distance, things of that nature.”
Grassley said those kinds of precautions are how outbreaks have been brought under control in the past.
While he won’t attend himself, Grassley expressed support for going forward with the convention in Florida — with the proper precautions.
“I think we should have a convention, but I think you should do whatever you can to make it safe as possible, so that would be with face masks and with social distancing,” Grassley said.
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.