After days of controversy over Trump’s choice to hold his first rally since the coronavirus lockdowns in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it was changed to July 20.

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TULSA, Okla. – As the Trump campaign has faced criticism for the scheduling of its Tulsa rally – and the president’s response to Black Lives Matter protests – Vice President Mike Pence told a group of Black pastors Saturday that there is “no excuse” for the death of George Floyd.

Pence, who will attend the rally at the BOK Center, took part in a meeting with Black pastors shortly after touching down in the city. Pence said he was there to listen to concerns following the death of Floyd, a Black man whose neck was pinned under the knee of a white police officer for nearly nine minutes.

“There is no excuse for what happened to George Floyd. There is no excuse to the rioting and looting and violence that ensued,” Pence told the group.

Trump’s rally was originally scheduled for Friday, or Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. The president said he moved the event after hearing from Black “friends and supporters.”

He later told the Wall Street Journal that “nobody had ever heard” of the Juneteenth holiday before the controversy.

Pence is facing his own blowback for declining to say the words “Black lives matter” during an interview with an ABC affiliate in Philadelphia on Friday. After Pence asserted that “all lives matter,” the interviewer pressed Pence on why he wouldn’t utter the words.

“Well, I don’t accept the fact, Brian, that there’s a segment of American society that disagrees in the preciousness and importance of every human life,” Pence said.

– John Fritze 

Trump departs White House for Tulsa

President Donald Trump called the crowds gathering for his high stakes rally in Tulsa “unbelievable” as he departed the White House on Saturday, but didn’t respond to shouted questions about the six staffers on his campaign who have tested positive for coronavirus.

“The event in Oklahoma is unbelievable. The crowds are unbelievable,” Trump said, umbrella in hand, before boarding Marine One to begin his journey to Tulsa. “We’re going to see a lot of great people…and pretty much that’s it.”

Supporters have been gathering for days outside the 19,000-seat BOK Center for the rally, which marks Trump’s return to the campaign trail after a three-month hiatus because of the pandemic. Public health officials have raised concerns about the event, perhaps the largest indoor gathering in the U.S. since the virus hit.

Trump did not address reports that six staffers working to organize the rally had tested positive for the virus and are now in quarantine. The campaign has said those staffers will not attend the event.

“See you in Oklahoma,” he said.  

– John Fritze

Six Trump advance staff test positive for coronavirus

Six staffers working to organize President Donald Trump’s campaign rally here have tested positive for the coronavirus, a development that is likely to increase concerns about the safety of the massive and high-profile indoor event.

Trump’s campaign said Saturday that quarantine procedures were implemented for the staffers and that neither the aides nor anyone they came into contact with will take part in the event.

“Per safety protocols, campaign staff are tested for COVID-19 before events. Six members of the advance team tested positive out of hundreds of tests performed, and quarantine procedures were immediately implemented,” Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement.

“No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today’s rally or near attendees and elected officials,” the statement read. “As previously announced, all rally attendees are given temperature checks before going through security, at which point they are given wristbands, face masks and hand sanitizer.”

Public health officials have raised concerns for several days that the rally could become a “super spreader” event because it will involve thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder inside an area, the BOK Center in Tulsa.

Trump campaign officials and the White House have dismissed those concerns, noting that masks would be distributed.

– Courtney Subramanian

More reading: Health experts fear Trump rally in Tulsa could be a coronavirus ‘super spreader’ 

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Tulsa police say Trump campaign ‘requested’ removal of protester 

In a statement released Saturday afternoon, the Tulsa Police Department said it removed a protester from the area outside the BOK Center after the Trump campaign “requested” her removal from a secure area set up in the blocks around the arena.

The department said they tried to convince the protester to leave before being escorted away and arrested for “obstruction.”

The protester told reporters at the time she had a valid ticket for the event. The department said her ticket holder status was “not a contributing factor” in her arrest.

– Nicholas Wu 

Crowds lining up hours in advance 

Hours before President Donald Trump’s much-anticipated rally here, supporters began trickling into line outside the BOK Center to join those who had camped overnight for a chance to get a choice spot inside the 19,000-seat arena.

The atmosphere was celebratory as some supporters – many of whom wore no mask –  brandished American and Trump campaign flags. 

“We’ve never been to a rally before and we heard that the president is speaking inside and outside,” said Katie Williams, noting that Trump is expected to address an overflow crowd near the arena before hosting the rally. “That’s exciting.”

Trump is set to touch down Saturday evening for his first campaign rally since early March, before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. The rally, which Trump has said marks a restart of his struggling reelection effort, has drawn criticism from health officials who warn that gathering thousands of people indoors could spread the virus.

The rally is set to begin at 8 p.m. EDT. 

Tulsa: A massive risk? Trump gambles with a rally that could shape his campaign

Tensions between rally attendees and protesters that caused Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum to declare a curfew earlier in the week had not materialized as of Friday afternoon. Bynum rescinded the curfew on Friday after speaking with Trump. 

Trump is returning to the campaign trail as his support has slid in national and battleground polls amid the coronavirus, the economic impact of shutdown orders and racial divisions that have resurfaced following the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose neck was pinned to the ground under the knee of a white police officer.

One protester was arrested Saturday morning outside the BOK Center. The protester had entered a “secure zone” surrounding the arena established by law enforcement.  The woman told reporters she had a ticket for the event but was told by law enforcement that she was “trespassing and breaking the law.” 

After enduring deluges and a short-lived curfew, Trump supporters said Saturday they are ready for the main event. 

“It’s just fun. People from all different backgrounds are here and we’ve made so many friends,” said Oklahoma resident Laura Ashford. “I wanted to be here for Juneteenth just as much as I wanted to see Trump.”

About a mile and a half south of the rally, Tykebrean Cheshier, 21, was planning a “Rally Against Hate” at Veterans Park, an event she expects to attract up to 6,000 people including some who have indicated they will travel from St. Louis and Chicago. 

Cheshier stressed that she did not consider the event a counter protest, though it is due to take place at the same time the president will deliver his remarks. She said it is deliberately being held in another part of the city.

“Our rally is to give people a way to still have a voice while he’s here,” she said. “People want a place where they can go safely.”

– Courtney Subramanian, Nicholas Wu and The Oklahoman

 ‘Insensitive and isolated’: Rev. Sharpton slams Trump at Tulsa Juneteenth celebration

Tulsa officials have no coronavirus plan from Trump campaign

President Donald Trump’s campaign has not yet provided Tulsa health officials with a plan for social distancing or mitigating the risk of coronavirus hours before the president is set to hold a high profile rally in Oklahoma, a city official said.

Leanne Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa Health Department, told USA TODAY that the department “has not received any such plan.” 

Some local health officials have called for the rally to be canceled as coronavirus cases spike statewide, including in Tulsa. Officials with the BOK Center, which is hosting the event, sent a letter to the Trump campaign this week asking for a plan they could share with local health officials. 

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said during a Thursday press conference that the BOK Center is responsible for accepting the rally and coordinating with the Trump campaign.

The Trump campaign plans to administer temperature checks and distribute masks and hand sanitizer at the event, but will not mandate the wearing of masks.  

Spokesman Guy Chipparoni said the BOK Center “did not hear back” from the Trump campaign about a plan for social distancing at the rally.

Chipparoni said Center employees would be instructing rally attendees to wear masks as they entered the building and for the duration of the event.

He said the Center would also encourage social distancing for the event with decals on the ground marking 6-foot distances in line for concessions and would put markings on the seats in the arena encouraging people to social distance as they sat down.

– Nicholas Wu

Contributing: The Oklahoman

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