A day after defending his right to hold campaign events in the midst of spikes in coronavirus cases, Vice President Pence and the Trump campaign are postponing two events he was to headline next week in Florida and Arizona.
The states are two of the hardest hit in recent days, and health officials have encouraged people to avoid large in-person gatherings. The events have been postponed "out of an abundance of caution," two campaign officials told NPR.
It's a remarkable reversal for Pence, who on Friday forcefully defended his plan to move forward with the campaign events.
"We still want to give people the freedom to participate in the political process," Pence said when reporters pressed him at the first White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing in two months. "Freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. And even in a health crisis the American people don't forfeit our constitutional rights."
A White House official said that Pence still plans to travel next week to Texas, Florida and Arizona to meet with the state's governors and health teams. The U.S. hit a single-day record for new cases of coronavirus on Friday, with more than 45,000 new cases reported. Those numbers were driven in part by Arizona, Texas and Florida, which continue setting records.
There have been no changes announced about Pence's planned appearance at the Celebrate Freedom Sunday event at First Baptist Church in Dallas. He is the featured speaker at the event that says it will "celebrate our freedom as Americans and our freedom in Christ with you through worship," including patriotic music and a salute to the armed forces. The website for the event says, "Masks and social distancing are strongly encouraged while on the campus of First Baptist Dallas."
This decision comes one week after President Trump held a large indoor campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla. At least eight campaign aides who worked on that event have tested positive for the coronavirus. Two of them attended the event, though, according to the campaign, they wore masks. Numerous others who work on the campaign have been quarantining at home since the rally.
On Tuesday, even as the coronavirus problem in Arizona was in focus, Trump attended a campaign-style rally in a Phoenix megachurch. Despite local requirements that masks be worn indoors when social distancing is impossible, the overwhelmingly young attendees sat shoulder to shoulder, and almost none wore masks.
After the Tulsa event, which failed to meet high expectations for attendance, the Trump campaign began reassessing what the president's signature rallies would look like amid coronavirus fears and racial justice protests, both of which officials blamed for the anemic turnout.
For his part, Trump has refused to acknowledge publicly all the empty blue seats in the arena in Tulsa, instead focusing on the TV ratings and streaming of the event.