Sununu declines to require masks for Trump rally; won't attend rally himself

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a Tulsa, Okla., rally in June 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford Jabin Botsford

  • Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. Trump is asking Americans to let him keep his job. His critics are asking how much of that job he’s actually doing. Those questions have gotten louder in recent days following revelations that Trump didn’t read at least two written intelligence briefings detailing concerns that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci

  • FILE - In this May 14, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks after exiting Air Force One at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pa. From the U.S. president to the British prime minister's top aide and far beyond, leading officials around the world are refusing to wear masks or breaking confinement rules meant to protect their populations from the coronavirus and slow the pandemic. While some are punished when they're caught, or publicly repent, others shrug... Evan Vucci

  • President Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak at a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. Trump is asking Americans to let him keep his job. His critics are asking how much of that job he’s actually doing. Those questions have gotten louder in recent days following revelations that Trump didn’t read at least two written intelligence briefings detailing concerns that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans in... Evan Vucci

Monitor staff
Published: 7/8/2020 3:33:13 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu will not be issuing a mask-requirement order for Saturday’s Portsmouth rally with President Donald Trump, rebuffing a swell of calls from critics to do so. But the governor will also not be attending the rally himself, citing the risks of COVID-19.

“I’m not going to be putting myself in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people, if that’s your question specifically,” Sununu said in response to a barrage of questions from local and national reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

Sununu added the state would follow the same precedent it has set in the past in not requiring masks or shutting down rallies or large gatherings.

In recent months, New Hampshire officials have allowed rallies by conservative activists seeking to re-open the state and several Black Lives Matter rallies for racial justice, despite orders at the time banning groups of 10 or more.

Sununu said despite pleas to do so, he would not make an exception for the Trump rally, which will be held at an airport hanger in Portsmouth. 

“We’ve treated all gatherings in this state – from the time the pandemic began to today – the same,” he said. “Whether they were the Black Lives Matter protests, whether they were protests on the State House lawn. Whether it’s a political rally, whatever it is. Everyone’s always treated the same. To have a mask order for one and not the other isn’t fair, doesn’t make sense.”

The governor also urged people 60 years and older to not attend the rally, following risk guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention around the virus.

And he said that he would not be attending himself, citing the need to protect himself and his family as governor. 

Sununu will instead be meeting Trump in person ahead of the rally, he said. The governor will be wearing a mask, he said. He encouraged the president to do the same. And he noted that masks would be handed out to those who want them at the rally and that Trump campaign officials will be wearing masks at the event. 

Trump’s appearance Saturday, which was first announced on Sunday, has set off criticism among Democrats and others over its potential to attract out-of-state visitors at a time when New Hampshire’s coronavirus cases have been decreasing. While New Hampshire and New England have seen relatively stable rates of COVID-19 in recent weeks, other parts of the country have surged, with daily new cases in the United States topping 50,000 and hot spots breaking out in several southern states.

On Monday and Tuesday, several prominent state Democrats criticized the rally and called on mask mandates, including both of Sununu’s gubernatorial challengers.

State Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, called on Sununu to issue an executive order specifically tailored to Saturday’s rally, which would include a mask requirement and social distancing guidelines.

“If Governor Sununu believes the Trump rally is too much of a health risk for him to attend, then its too dangerous for every Granite Stater,” Feltes said in a statement Wednesday.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, who is competing against Feltes for the party nomination, has gone a step further, urging Sununu in recent months to issue a statewide mask requirement for all indoor spaces. Feltes does not support a statewide requirement, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

In an interview Wednesday, Volinsky said that Sununu should have canceled the rally entirely. 

“I think with respect to Trump on Saturday, the governor should have told the president that he’s not welcome,” Volinsky said. “Given the health risks of this pandemic, New Hampshire is not here to be used as a photo op.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Democratic House Speaker Steve Shurtleff sent a letter to Sununu urging a mask mandate, citing recent Trump rallies where supporters have been seen without masks. 

“All of us fear a second wave and we should be doing everything we can not to invite one,” Shurtleff said to the governor. “You have often touted your work with the White House and your close relationship with President Trump and his administration. I ask you to use that relationship now to put Granite Staters first and have (the) president’s campaign practice basic safety standards and require masks Saturday.”

Responding to reporters’ questions, Sununu stressed the importance of mask use for the rally. On Monday, he called the wearing of masks “imperative.”

 “Whether it’s a mandate or not, we want people to understand it’s important,” the governor said. “It’s important that they do their best to maintain physical distancing, wear a mask. But that’s the same message as we’ve had since the beginning of the pandemic.”


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