New Hampshire’s GOP governor defends Trump’s rally — but isn’t attending

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu assured reporters Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s upcoming rally in the state could be pulled off safely and without a mandatory mask order, even as he was unlikely to attend himself.

“We’ve treated all gatherings in the state, from the time the pandemic began to today, the same, whether they were the Black Lives Matter protests, whether there were protests on the statehouse lawn, whether it’s a political rally, whatever it is, everyone’s always treated the same,” Sununu, a Republican, told reporters during a news conference on the state’s coronavirus response Tuesday. “So to have a mask order for one and not the other isn’t fair, doesn’t make sense.”

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Sununu also said that while he plans to greet the President at some point during his visit to the state, it was unlikely he’d attend Saturday’s rally in person, citing health concerns.

“I’m going to go and greet the President as the governor,” he said. “I will not be in the crowd of thousands of people, I’m not going to put myself in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people, if that’s your question specifically. I try to — unfortunately, you know, I have to be extra cautious as the governor, I try to be extra cautious for myself, my family.”

The governor said that while he would wear a mask and hopes others — including the President — wear one, he was not going force rally organizers or attendees to put them on.

Still, Sununu expressed confidence that Trump’s campaign would take necessary steps to ensure safety at the rally.

“I’ve been very clear over the past 48 hours, that we expect folks to wear masks, there are masks that are going to be handed out at that event, we’re gonna make sure hand sanitizers there,” he told reporters. We’ve heard from the Trump campaign that they’ll be wearing masks themselves, which we’re very happy to see.”

In an email announcing Saturday’s rally, the Trump campaign noted that there would be “ample access” to hand sanitizer and all attendees would be provided and “strongly encouraged to wear” face masks. But it has not indicated they will mandate wearing masks.

Staffers attending Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month, including campaign manager Brad Parscale and communications director Tim Murtaugh, wore masks.

Sununu also said it was unlikely the President would be in close contact with residents during his visit to the state.

“I don’t want to speak on behalf of the President, of course, but he’s flying in, in terms of his health and safety. My sense is he’s flying in, walking out on the stage giving a speech and flying out,” he said. “I mean he’s not really interacting within six feet of the crowd or anything like that.”

New Hampshire Democrats on Tuesday called Sununu’s decision allowing the rally to proceed reckless and inconsistent with his own administration’s safe reopening guidelines, pointing to an agreement with NASCAR that allowed the racing organization to hold an August race in the state with a reduced audience, questioning why the Trump campaign wasn’t operating under similar guidelines.

“Sununu continues to show that his loyalty to Trump is more important than the health and safety of Granite Staters,” said Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. “This reckless rally will only further highlight how Trump and Sununu downplayed the threat of COVID-19, rushed into reopening, and are putting party politics first in the middle of a pandemic. Granite Staters deserve a governor who stands up for their health and safety and Sununu failed this critical test of leadership today.”