weather icon Mostly Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Stay or go? White House isn’t saying either way

WASHINGTON — To go or not to go. For Las Vegas, that is the question – as a handful of convention sponsors have decided to cancel long-anticipated confabs on the Strip because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Trump administration’s response has been to stay away from telling convention sponsors that the show must go on. Or not.

Asked during a Tuesday off-camera press briefing by the President’s Coronavirus Task Force if Google was right to cancel its annual confab, Vice President Mike Pence passed the question to Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar.

“We do not have any advisory we are giving about conventions or other business travel restrictions,” Azar said. “Companies will make their own decisions based on their assessment and common sense.”

Pence, the former governor of Indiana who is heading up the federal government’s coronavirus efforts, said later, “I know intuitively that these decisions are best made on the state and local level.”

More news about coronavirus

Elected officials find themselves facing two dubious paths for addressing a virus without knowing how contagious it may be. They can push for more isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19, or they can encourage Americans to carry on as usual to limit damage to the economy.

Stay home or not?

Or they can take a wait-and-see posture, as the administration and politicians across the country appear to be doing.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that China’s use of “social distancing” – shutting down travel and entire cities – seems to be responsible for China’s decline in new cases, but the approach is “draconian,” “extreme,” and probably not “tenable in this country.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce stepped into the void during a Wednesday press conference.

Chamber CEO Tom Donohue advised members, “the same advice we are following ourselves: be prudent and be prepared, but don’t overreact,” he said. “Americans should continue to monitor the situation, but feel confident as they go about their daily lives, head to work, conduct their meetings, or drop their children off at school.”

Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association faulted corporations that cancelled events for “not listening to what the facts are.”

When a corporation cancels a meeting, he added, “who’s out of work? Not me, but a housekeeper, a waiter, a waitress. The people who need the jobs the most.”

“If I were going to book a trip, I would book it right now,” said Dow, who expects the travel industry to offer bargains in the short term.

Trump circumspect

While usually unafraid to call out corporate decisions he doesn’t like – moving plants overseas and laying off workers – even President Donald Trump is holding his tongue.

Asked Tuesday about his view on calls for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to consider holding games without fans in the arenas, as well as other convention closures, Trump was equivocal, “That’s a tough move. No, I’m not prepared for that. But let them do what they want to do,” he said. “I’m hearing more and more about that. I don’t think it would be necessary, no. That’s too bad.”

At the same time, Trump – who wouldn’t say if he would take his son to a Disney theme park – has been able to pluck a silver lining from Americans hunkering down: It could be a boon for the U.S. hospitality industry. “I think we have a lot of great places we could travel to, right in the United States,” Trump said.

Popping in on a task force meeting with airline CEOs, Trump offered, “People are staying in this country having a positive impact on airlines.”

Las Vegas events canceled

The task force also announced that the White House had directed federal agencies to review international travel plans in light of State Department travel advisories to avoid virus hot spots.

While there has been no confirmed case of COVID-19 in Nevada, Las Vegas has seen a handful of convention cancellations.

On Friday, the White House postponed an Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference scheduled for Las Vegas on March 14 amid concerns about travel between Asia and the United States.

While Trump was supposed to participate in the ASEAN meeting, he will speak before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas on the same day.

Adobe announced Monday it had decided to cancel its annual summit at The Venetian in Las Vegas at the end of the month, expected to draw 22,000 to the Strip, and turn it into an “online event.”

On Tuesday, the Review-Journal reported, the Climate Reality Project, founded by former Vice President Al Gore, decided to postpone a training event for its Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

And on Wednesday, the NXT Global Summit scrubbed its convention, which had been scheduled for the Las Vegas Convention Center, saying in a statement, “Although our event is still a few months away, it is clear that our sponsor and exhibitor partners, as well as ticket holders, are making the choice to forego any and all large-scale events for the foreseeable future and it is simply not tenable for us to launch our event in this climate.”

As a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., attended a meeting with the task force Tuesday. “Tourism communities are particularly at risk,” she told the Review-Journal after the meeting, where she pushed for funding for states most affected by coronavirus-connected cancelations.

Asked about the federal effort, Lee responded, “From Nevada’s point of view, our state officials have taken the lead.”

Asked about the city’s dealings with the Trump task force, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman’s spokesman Jace Radke responded, “The mayor asked me to let you know that the city remains in close contact with the Southern Nevada Health District and is monitoring the situation with our partners. She does not have a comment on the White House’s response to the virus.”

Also Tuesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak tweeted, “I had a productive call this morning with @VP Mike Pence and our Nation’s Governors regarding updates on #COVID19. Collaboration is key in this evolving situation, and we will continue our work to ensure Nevada is prepared.”

In a recent interview with KLAS-TV, Channel 8, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., hit Trump for “cutting funding,” stripping positions and putting “political people out front as opposed to medical experts.”

FactCheck.org rated Democrats’ claims about Trump cutting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health funds as misleading as Congress never cut the funding and Trump’s “budget proposal is more a statement of priorities than anything Congress would vote to enact.”

Titus spokesman Kevin Gerson told the Review-Journal that given Trump’s initial request for $1.5 billion in new funding to fight COVID-19 – which pales next to the reported $8.3 billion deal reached in Congress – and his failure to fill some pivotal positions, “If you look at all those points together, the administration wasn’t prepared for something like this.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates The Venetian. Adelson is on the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Facing potential indictment, Trump holds defiant Waco rally

Trump declared Saturday that his “enemies are desperate to stop us” and that “our opponents have done everything they can to crush our spirit and to break our will.”

Henderson Council candidates debate sports subsidies

Candidates in Henderson’s Ward 1 special election discussed whether they’d support using public funds to bring sports or entertainment facilities to the city, as has been done repeatedly in the past.