President Donald Trump, who has been eager to get back on the campaign trail, said Wednesday that he would hold his first rally in more than three months on June 19 in Tulsa, Okla., raising the risk of spreading the coronavirus in a mass gathering.
He said he also would stage rallies soon in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, states that he won in 2016 but where polls show his support has faltered.
Trump held his last major rally on March 2 in Charlotte, N.C., but then suspended his raucous gatherings as much of the country shut down to blunt the fast-spreading coronavirus contagion.
Oklahoma has reported 7,480 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday and 355 deaths, with five deaths in the most recent 24 hours. The numbers are relatively small but have been increasing.
Trump’s campaign did not immediately say what, if any, social distancing precautions it would take to protect his supporters from the virus. Trump, who has refused to wear a face mask in public, previously said that he would like to see packed arenas.
“We’ve had a tremendous run at rallies,” Trump told reporters Wednesday in the White House Cabinet Room. “I don’t think we’ve had an empty seat since we came down the escalator,” referring to the start of his campaign in 2015.
Public health officials have cautioned against mass gatherings, even in states that have had lower rates of infections.
“It’s much too early to let our guards down,” Dr. David Satcher, a former surgeon general and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview. “This is a very dangerous pandemic.”
Businesses in Oklahoma are beginning to open, including a Six Flags attraction in Oklahoma City that is scheduled to open on a limited basis the same day Trump plans to hold his rally in Tulsa.
The Trump rally will occur on what’s known as Juneteenth Day, when many Americans commemorate the end of slavery, in a city that was home to an infamous 1921 massacre of blacks, one of the worst racial atrocities in the nation’s history.
Trump did not acknowledge that history in his comments Wednesday and instead tweeted his opposition to removing the names of Confederate army leaders from military bases.
The location of the rally and Trump’s tweets come as vast throngs across the nation have protested to call for racial justice and an end to police killings of blacks.
Trump is eager to reenergize his presidential campaign since polls show him losing ground to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, both nationally and in battleground states, as the unemployment rate remains a dismal 13.3%.
Oklahoma, which also has seen its economy battered by the collapse of energy prices, is a reliably Republican state. Trump’s rallies are live-streamed and televised to a national audience.
The president’s decision to resume rallies may put pressure on Biden, who has mostly hunkered down at his home in Delaware since March, to increase his visibility.
Biden gave a speech in Philadelphia on June 2 and flew to Houston on Monday to meet the family of George Floyd, the black man killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25.
While the rallies give Trump a powerful way to address his supporters, and perhaps to recruit new ones, his improvisational style can create political problems.
During one of his final prepandemic rallies, held Feb. 28 in North Charleston, S.C., Trump accused Democrats of politicizing the coronavirus crisis, calling it “their new hoax.”
More than 112,000 people have died of COVID-19 across the country since then, with the death toll still growing by about 1,000 people a day.
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