JACKI LYDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. With Hurricane Gustav churning toward the Gulf Coast, Republicans announced today that their national convention will have a very different vibe and shape when it opens tomorrow night in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The GOP's presidential candidate, John McCain, spoke this afternoon via satellite at a news conference in St. Paul. He said it's time for his fellow party members to take off their Republican hats and put on their American hats.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): Of course this is a time when we have to do away with our party politics, and we have to act as Americans. We have to join with 300-million other Americans on behalf of our fellow citizens. It's a time for action. So we're going to suspend most of our activities tomorrow except for those absolutely necessary.
LYDEN: Joining us on the line now from St. Paul is NPR's David Welna. David, what does Senator McCain mean when he says all but the absolutely necessary activities for the GOP convention are being suspended?
DAVID WELNA: Well, Jacki, it means that this four-day GOP convention, for now at least, is meeting only between 3:00 and 5:30 p.m. Central Time tomorrow, and nothing more is planned for now beyond that, and at this two-and-a-half-hour meeting, they're doing only the minimum necessary to finish party business.
They'll elect officers, adopt the GOP platform drafted in Minneapolis last week and adopt any rules changes passed by the rules committee, but there will be no nomination roll call tomorrow, nor will there be any of the planned speeches.
LYDEN: It sounds as if we don't know whether John McCain will actually appear at this convention to accept the nomination.
WELNA: That is not at all clear at this point. McCain said today he can hardly wait to get up to St. Paul from the Gulf Coast, where he spent the day with his vice-presidential pick, Sarah Palin, but he said it's really in the hands of God what happens later this week, and he made no promises, and his campaign chairman, Rick Davis, also said today he can't make any promises about what's going to happen here beyond tomorrow afternoon.
LYDEN: So David, what's the calculation about why the GOP is taking this rather dramatic step?
WELNA: Well you know, I think in some ways, Republicans had almost no choice but to suspend the festivities and the headline speakers who were to come here tomorrow, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who announced earlier today they were not coming.
For one thing, I think everyone remembers what a huge embarrassment it was to Republicans how the GOP administration responded so slowly to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, and so I think everyone in the party wants to show they've, you know, sort of turned over a new leaf, but I think it also might have seemed a bit unseemly to see Republicans partying down here in St. Paul at the same time you could possibly see images of suffering and destruction from the impact Gustav may have on the Gulf Coast.
Republicans here emphasize that it was McCain who asked that this convention essentially be put on hold to see what happens next with Gustav, and I think this is a chance for him to look presidential by saying the country comes before the party does.
LYDEN: So the speeches, the parties, the receptions, the American hats rather than the Republican hats?
WELNA: Well, you know, they're asking that all those slated to give speeches here this week stick around and be prepared to go ahead with the program, but I think you won't see nearly the number of receptions that had been planned for the Twin Cities.
McCain appealed to those putting on these parties today to contribute instead to Gulf Coast charities. You know, as he put it, it's time for people to open their hearts and to open their wallets.
LYDEN: All right. NPR's David Welna in St. Paul, Minnesota. Thank you, David.
WELNA: Quite welcome, Jacki.
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