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GOP raises pressure on Secret Service to push RNC protest zone away from Milwaukee venues

Republicans are stepping up lobbying of the U.S. Secret Service to buffer the Republican National Convention facilities from a designated protest area.

In a letter to the Secret Service, U.S. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky echoed concerns raised earlier by a lawyer for the Republican National Committee.

“I am deeply concerned about reports that the security perimeter around the Republican Convention site in Milwaukee may be creating a likely — and preventable — area of conflict between protestors and Convention attendees and delegates,” he wrote in a Friday letter to Kimberly A. Cheatle, director of the United States Secret Service.

Pere Marquette Park, the designated protest area is quiet so far during the Democratic National Convention at the Wisconsin Center on August 17, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wis., U.S.A.

The RNC will take place in Milwaukee from July 15-18, bringing tens of thousands of visitors to the swing state’s biggest city.

Last month, GOP officials urged the Secret Service to move protest organizers farther from the downtown venues that will host the RNC than the expected site at Pere Marquette Park on the west side of the Milwaukee River. In a letter, an attorney for the Republican National Committee argued that holding protests there would mean convention attendees would have to walk right by the park on State Street or Kilbourn Avenue to reach the venues, creating “a mandated confrontational area.”

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The stage is set for the Republican National Convention fall media walkthrough at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The convention will be held July 15-18.

Meanwhile, protest organizers have sought a closer location.

McConnell in his letter cited the “potentially volatile” nature of a political convention and a “challenging” year for protests in the U.S.

“While I am a strong proponent of First Amendment rights to assemble and speak, time-place-and-manner restrictions exist for a reason,” he wrote. “In a potentially volatile situation like a major political convention, located downtown in a large city, it’s imperative that we balance the place of those First Amendment activities with the safety of Convention attendees — in particular preserving clear access points for the Convention.”

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He cited concerns specifically about the safety of U.S. senators attending the convention and pushed Cheatle to meet with RNC and convention leadership.

The Washington Post first reported the letter.

In a statement, Secret Service Chief of Communications Anthony Guglielmi said security plans for events like the RNC are developed by members of federal, state and local agencies who have “the greatest understanding of the host city and the expected security environment for the event.”

“The development of the security plan is based on security considerations, including risk and threat assessments, and is not a political matter,” he said. “The U.S. Secret Service is confident in the security plan being developed, and appreciates the continued coordination from all involved partners in Milwaukee as we work together to focus on ensuring the highest level of safety and security for the convention.”

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and the U.S. Secret Service released the map of the security zone for RNC venues of Fiserv Forum, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Baird Center.

City officials have said the city must provide a speaker’s podium and march route that is within “sight and sound” of the RNC under the U.S. Constitution and the RNC framework agreement to which city leaders signed on in 2022.

Neither has been officially announced, though Mayor Cavalier Johnson’s chief of staff Nick DeSiato said in March that Pere Marquette Park would be a “likely candidate” for the speaker’s platform.

A “security footprint” downtown is expected to extend from Cherry Street to the north to West Clybourn Street on the south and from North Water Street on the east to North 9th Street on the west.

Within that footprint will be a fenced-in area around the main convention venues that will not be accessible to anyone but credentialed attendees. The event will take place at Fiserv Forum, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Baird Center.

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