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Sisolak decries ‘Evangelicals for Trump’ campaign event in Las Vegas

Updated August 7, 2020 - 4:21 pm

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Friday sharply rebuked organizers of an event held in Las Vegas by President Donald Trump’s campaign in apparent violation of his order limiting public gatherings during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was deeply disheartened and dismayed to see the callous and dangerous behavior displayed last night in Las Vegas at a campaign event for President Trump,” Sisolak said of the “Evangelicals for Trump” event held Thursday at the Ahern Hotel. “I am equally dismayed that the campaign and business defied the state of Nevada emergency directive which limits public gatherings to 50 people or fewer.”

“This campaign event put more people at risk, including his supporters and the hardworking Nevadans who staffed the event,” he added.

Several speakers at the event criticized limitations on church gatherings made by “liberal” local and state governments. They included headliner and Trump’s personal pastor Paula White, who along with Faith and Freedom Chair Ralph Reed said that Sisolak, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and the Las Vegas City Council all attempted to shut the event down.

Event ‘ignored … experts and state law’

Sisolak said Friday that state and local governments are working hard to obey the guidance of health professionals and the president’s coronavirus task force, which identified Las Vegas as a “red zone” of the pandemic.

“President Trump’s task force echoes the directives we have in place, such as limiting gatherings, mask wearing and social distancing,” Sisolak said. “Yet, President Trump’s own campaign has ignored his experts and state law.”

He continued: “I’m calling on President Trump to focus on the real threat to the health and lives of Nevadans and all Americans: the senseless spread of COVID-19. I’m calling on President Trump to order his campaign to follow our state’s protocols and his own health care experts’ strong guidance.”

Goodman did not immediately return a phone call Friday seeking comment, but she said through city spokesman Jace Radke that she was not involved in the issuing of a notice or civil penalty against the event.

According to the Trump campaign, the event drew about 550 people. The Ahern, the campaign said, can hold 1,600.

The campaign had hoped to hold the event at a church but switched to the Ahern due to restrictions on church gatherings.

“In a time when many Nevadans can’t go to church because of overreaching restrictions, President Trump’s campaign is bringing together evangelicals from across the community to pray, worship and discuss key issues facing Americans in the November election,” campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso said prior to the event.

A lawsuit filed against the state complained that Nevada punishes churches while allowing casinos to operate at much higher occupancy levels, but the U. S. Supreme Court in July upheld the rules set forth by Sisolak.

As the event unfolded, both organizers and members of Trump’s campaign maintained they had done nothing wrong, as the Ahern was at less than 50 percent occupancy.

Masks required, temperatures taken

Attendees were asked to wear masks and had their temperatures taken upon entrance.

Hotel owner Don Ahern was eventually cited and fined $250 for violating the governor’s order regarding limiting public and private events to 50 people, according Radke, the city of Las Vegas spokesman.

Ahern is a known GOP supporter who routinely hosts events at either hotel or rental business. Last month, the hotel hosted a meeting of the Nevada Republican Club in which Goodman was the keynote speaker.

He did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

On Friday, the campaign again stressed it had done nothing out of compliance with Sisolak’s Phase 2 executive order, maintaining that hotels, restaurants, casinos and nonretail indoor facilities are allowed to operate at 50 percent occupancy.

“It’s grotesque that Nevada Democrats systematically targeted people of faith who were praying together – while obeying state and local health guidelines – just because they support President Trump,” said campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager. “If it were (presumptive Democratic nominee Joe) Biden supporters shoulder to shoulder at slot machines instead of the Trump supporters with Bibles, the state and local Democrats would’ve never attempted to shut it down.”

Las Vegas City Councilman Brian Knudsen said in a statement Friday that a violation is a violation with no exceptions.

“I support the state and our city’s efforts to keep Nevadans safe,” he said. “I’m hopeful everyone in our community will realize the critical time we are in and our need to stay safe so we can stay open.”

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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