Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesBY: KENDALL KARSON AND JOHN VERHOVEK, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — Former Vice President Joe Biden intends to accept the party’s nomination in Milwaukee, as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is moving forward with plans to adjust its nominating convention format amid the COVID-19 pandemic to include a mix of in-person events, anchored in Wisconsin, and virtual components from satellite locations across the country.
The gathering, which will take place over four days from Aug. 17-20, is now moving from the Fiserv Forum to the Wisconsin Center, a smaller venue just blocks away, the DNC announced on Wednesday. The decision to move the convention site comes as the party expects fewer people at the event as it attempts to conduct the culminating proceeding of the Democratic primary in accordance with guidelines from medical experts.
The Democratic National Convention will also feature satellite “live broadcasts and curated content” from cities, locations and landmarks across the country. The party is billing the new format as a “Convention Across America,” after the coronavirus forced organizers to recalibrate their plans on the fly. But details on where those satellite broadcasts will take place were not yet released.
While the former vice president plans to accept the nomination in-person, state delegations have been informed by organizers that they should no longer plan to travel to Wisconsin, after consulting with health experts, and should plan to conduct official business for the convention remotely. A process is being developed to ensure all delegates can cast their votes on all convention matters, including the presidential nomination, remotely during the convention, party officials said.
Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., will serve as the permanent chair of the 2020 convention, and will preside over all official convention business. Thompson, who endorsed Biden in March of this year, currently serves as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Vice President Biden intends to proudly accept his party’s nomination in Milwaukee and take the next step forward towards making Donald Trump a one-term president,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a statement released by the DNC. “The city of Milwaukee has been an incredible partner and we are committed to highlighting Wisconsin as a key battleground state at our convention this August.”
It still remains unclear, though, how many party loyalists and supporters will be in Milwaukee, and who exactly will be on the convention floor in the audience. But planners said Wednesday that specific details about delegation representation on the convention floor will come only after public health officials complete their assessment of the trajectory and impact of the coronavirus pandemic closer to the summer convention.
“Leadership means being able to adapt to any situation,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said Wednesday. “That’s exactly what we’ve done with our convention. Unlike this president, Joe Biden and Democrats are committed to protecting the health and safety of the American people.”
Keeping the presumptive Democratic nominee’s acceptance speech in Milwaukee has long been Biden’s preference, which he has expressed ever since the coronavirus pandemic derailed the physical campaign trail.
“Well, I would much rather be able to have a convention in person because it generates enthusiasm and momentum. And as you probably know, watching me campaign. I’m one of those guys who shows up early and leaves late because I draw energy from the crowd,” Biden told a local Wisconsin TV station in late May.
Convention planners are eliminating the large-scale events and parties that traditionally take place on the sidelines of the convention and are attended by thousands, such as a welcome reception.
The party has also brought on two epidemiologists and infectious disease experts, Dr. W. Ian Lipkin and Dr. Larry Brilliant, to help advise and adjust plans for the overall health and safety of convention staff, attendees, and supporters.
In Wisconsin, there are currently over 25,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and the death toll stands at 745.
The overall production of the convention’s program – including the satellite broadcasts – will be led by Emmy-award winning producer Ricky Kirshner, who previously helmed the production of the 2004 Tony Awards and the 2007 Super Bowl Halftime Show, and has been a staple of Democratic national conventions since 1992.
Biden’s campaign has previously said they will hew to advice from medical experts when it comes to any in-person elements to the convention.
“As is the case with many other businesses and families around the country dealing with our new normal, we are considering a variety of formats for this to take place, but we are certain that in the end it will capture the enthusiasm and spirit that we have to making Donald Trump a one term president and transforming our country,” Biden campaign spokesman Bill Russo said in a statement issued last month.
The campaign also recently brought on two senior hires at the beginning of June to oversee planning for the gathering.
Addisu Demissie, who served as campaign manager of Sen. Cory Booker’s 2020 presidential campaign, will serve as the Senior Advisor for Convention Coordination, and Lindsay Holst, Biden’s digital director when he served as vice president, will serve as Senior Advisor for Convention and Special Projects to “support the extensive digital footprint,” of the convention, according to the campaign.
The move comes just weeks after Republicans settled on splitting their in-person convention between two cities, keeping a scaled-down official business gathering of just over 300 delegates in Charlotte, N.C., and moving President Trump’s acceptance speech and the coronation he desires to Jacksonville, Fla.
Earlier this month, DNC Chair Tom Perez signaled that some portion of the event will take place in-person in Milwaukee. “It’s not an either-or — you either have a full convention or you have a virtual convention. There are gradations in between,” he said.
Since the onset of the coronavirus, the format for the Democratic convention remained in flux. Last month, the DNC’s rule-makers passed a measure to allow for remote voting at the quadrennial event, which was ultimately approved by the full committee.
Perez’s comments came just before the Wisconsin Democratic Party held its state convention, a scaled-down, one-day affair that was entirely virtual. The state party event was seen as an early dry-run of virtual capabilities for organizers behind the national convention two months before their own.
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