WASHINGTON -- Republicans are still determining whether journalists will be barred from attending this month's presidential nominating convention, The Washington Post reported Sunday afternoon, citing unnamed Republican National Committee officials.
They disputed claims by a Republican National Convention spokesperson last week that, because of covid-19 concerns, the event in Charlotte, N.C., would be closed to the press.
No final decision has been made, the Post reported.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Saturday morning was the first news organization to write about the ban on reporters, after a convention spokesperson confirmed the policy in writing.
CNN and The Associated Press followed with similar stories Saturday evening after obtaining a copy of the same written statement that the newspaper had relied upon.
The Trump campaign and the Republican National Convention declined Sunday to comment when reached by the Democrat-Gazette, referring further questions to Republican National Committee officials; RNC staffers did not respond to the newspaper's queries.
For now, the Arkansas delegation is scheduled to be led by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
In a written statement, he said his travel to North Carolina "depends upon the situation with the COVID-19 virus in Arkansas."
"At this point, I hope to attend but it is important that the convention both have adequate health safeguards and that the convention be open to the media. I would expect that to be the case," he said.
Last week, a convention spokesperson had told the Democrat-Gazette that reporters would have no access to the events, which include Republican National Committee meetings and a session of the convention's 112-member credentials committee on Aug. 23.
"[W]e are planning for all of the Charlotte activities to be closed press: Friday, August 21 – Monday, 24th given the health restrictions and limitations in place in the state," the convention spokesperson had said in an email. "We are happy to let you know if this changes, but we are working within the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events."
The spokesperson could not say whether convention business would be livestreamed or whether C-SPAN would be allowed to air it.
The announcement that the convention would be a private event drew sharp criticism from many journalists and some conservative activists.
"This is an ill-advised decision that the @GOP [and] @GOPconvention should reconsider," tweeted Zeke Miller, an AP White House reporter and president of the White House Correspondents' Association. "The nomination of a major party presidential candidate is very much the business of the American people."
"I don't believe @GOPChairwoman [Ronna McDaniel] will be able to sustain her decision to close the Republican convention in Charlotte to the media. But I hope she tries," tweeted Bill Kristol, editor-at-large of The Bulwark and a prominent Never Trumper. "Re-nominating the president in secret will be main story of the convention, not any message the Trump campaign wants to push."
Sunday, Republican National Committee communications director Michael Ahrens portrayed the policy as tentative, telling CNN that things remain fluid.
"No final decision has been made and we are still working through logistics and press coverage options," he said. "We are working with the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events."
Ahrens confirmed that "a livestream is part of the press coverage options we are working through," CNN reported.
Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Doyle Webb, who has attended every national convention since 1980, said reporters have always been welcome at the party's proceedings.
"Normally everything's open. The problem we've got is the virus and the seating numbers that they're allowing in the rooms that we're meeting in," he said. "They're not allowing any guests, or any staff or any additional delegates to attend because we...have a problem with space."
The covid-19 pandemic has forced both parties to scrap traditional convention gatherings.
Democrats, who meet Aug. 17-20, have scaled back their programming to two hours per night. As few as 300 people are expected to gather in Milwaukee when Joe Biden is formally nominated, The New York Times reported.
That includes party officials, journalists, security personnel and health professionals.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of delegates at the Republican National Convention had already been lowered from 2,550 to 336.
Rather than meeting in the 20,200-capacity Spectrum Center, the delegates will gather at the Westin Charlotte, Webb said.
Delegates are expected to formally nominate Trump on Monday, Aug. 24 and then adjourn.
Subsequent Charlotte-based events have been scrubbed, though Trump is expected to give an acceptance speech from another location on Thursday, Aug. 27.
Originally, Arkansas was scheduled to send 40 delegates and 37 alternates to Charlotte -- all of them supporting the renomination of President Donald J. Trump.
With the number of covid-19 cases swelling, delegates and guests were disinvited and the number of delegates was cut from 40 to six.
In addition to Hutchinson, other Arkansas participants will be Webb, Republican National Committeeman Jonathan Barnett, Atty. Gen. Leslie Rutledge, Republican National Committeewoman Jonelle Fulmer and J.D. McGehee, a Hot Springs resident and district director for U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman.
If Hutchinson is unavailable to attend, he would be replaced by the delegation's vice-chairman, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin.
Webb, who also serves as Republican National Committee general counsel, said his party has a history of transparency and is doing its best under trying circumstances.
"I'm hopeful that we could find space...for media or for the press to observe our proceedings," he said.
Three weeks out, there's still a lot of uncertainty.
"We've never had a convention like this. This is new," said Barnett, who attended his first national convention in 1972.
A media-free convention would be a first for Barnett, he said.
"Personally, I think they ought to let the press in," he said. "If I were getting nominated to be president of the United States, I'd want it to... be an event where the press showed up."