Donald Trump defended holding an indoor campaign rally Sunday in Henderson, Nev., despite the ongoing pandemic, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he wasn’t personally in any danger.
“I’m on a stage and it’s very far away,” Trump told the newspaper in an interview. “And so I’m not at all concerned.”
Trump’s rally at a Henderson warehouse was the campaign’s first such event indoors in nearly three months. Thousands of the president’s supporters attended the event, and few of them practiced social distancing or wore masks to protect against the coronavirus.
Gov. Steve Sisolak, D, said the president was “reckless and selfish” and had endangered his supporters. Trump called Sisolak “a political hack” in his interview with the Review-Journal.
The campaign scheduled the Sunday event at Xtreme Manufacturing’s warehouse after the airport authority in nearby Las Vegas rejected plans to use an outdoor hangar because it violated state regulations prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people. A person familiar with the matter said the campaign had been denied the use of seven other venues before opting for the warehouse.
Trump said attendees had been blocked from using multiple “exterior sites” his campaign had secured and suggested political motivations.
“We had five sites, all outside sites like last night, tremendous room, and a great gentleman who owns this building said, you know what what, what they’re doing is really unfair, you can use my building,” Trump said. The Review-Journal said the warehouse is owned by a Trump friend, Don Ahern.
Sisolak, who denied his office directly intervened to cancel the outdoor rallies, tweeted Sunday that Trump “appears to have forgotten that this country is still in the middle of a global pandemic.”
“This is an insult to every Nevadan who has followed the directives, made sacrifices, and put their neighbors before themselves,” Sisolak said. “It’s also a direct threat to all of the recent progress we’ve made, and could potentially set us back.” He said Trump’s actions put “countless lives in danger.”
Reporters for major television networks opted not to cover the rally in person, citing safety concerns in the face of the pandemic, which has left nearly 200,000 Americans dead. Of the five major U.S. television networks, only Fox News — which was the designated “pool” network transmitting video for all of the networks — was inside the manufacturing hall.
The Trump campaign said every attendee at the rally was given a temperature check before admission and provided hand sanitizer and a mask they were encouraged to wear. The majority opted not to wear their masks during the event.
“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden released a statement Saturday saying the president’s rallies were “reckless” and “ignore the realities of COVID-19 and endanger public health.” Biden has not held large campaign rallies, citing the risk of the virus.
The city of Henderson warned Xtreme Manufacturing that its business license could be suspended or revoked over the event, according to KVVU-TV in Las Vegas.
After Trump’s last indoor rally, on June 20 in Tulsa, Okla., the state department of health reported a record number of coronavirus cases in the three weeks following the rally. Six staffers on the president’s advance team for the rally tested positive before the event.
At the Henderson rally, Trump sought to put a positive spin on his handling of the pandemic, pledging a vaccine before the end of the year and inviting the crowd to compare the U.S.’s record to that of other places.
“Did you see the statistics of us compared to other countries? Us compared to Europe?” he asked the crowd, contending the U.S. response compared favorably.
Europe, whose population is about one and a half times that of the U.S., has had 184,000 deaths and 2.6 million cases, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The U.S., despite its smaller population, has had 194,000 deaths and 6.5 million cases. Trump also undercounted the numbers of deaths in the U.S., saying the number is 180,000.