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Gustav prompts major changes to RNC agenda

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  • NEW: RNC will meet only for official business Monday
  • McCain says storm could make time wrong for political celebration
  • Bush likely to address convention, if there is one, via satellite, sources say
  • Gulf Coast state governors already have canceled trips to convention
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Republican National Convention will cut back most of its activities Monday because of Hurricane Gustav, Sen. John McCain said Sunday.

"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 the 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," said McCain, speaking from St. Louis, Missouri.

Campaign manager Rick Davis said Republicans would meet in an abbreviated fashion, conducting only what was necessary to constitute a convention, such as calling the convention to order, receiving a report from the credentials committee and adopting the party platform.

"Tomorrow's program will be business only and will refrain from any political rhetoric that would be traditional in an opening session of a convention," he said.

The convention will begin at its regularly scheduled time, 3 p.m. central time, and adjourn around 5:00 or 5:30, he said. iReport.com: Share your view of the RNC convention

The GOP's four-day program was originally scheduled to begin Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota. Davis said the rest of the week's schedule would be determined on a day-by-day basis.

Earlier Sunday, McCain said it wouldn't be appropriate to hold a political celebration during the storm. Learn more about Gustav

"We must redirect our efforts from the really celebratory event of the nomination of president and vice president of our party to acting as all Americans," he said, adding that it was likely the event would change into a "call to the nation for action."

"I pledge that tomorrow night, and if necessary, throughout our convention ... to act as Americans, not Republicans, because America needs us now no matter whether we are Republican or Democrat,'' he said.

McCain will attend some small events Monday in Pennsylvania, a senior aide told CNN.

The aide, though, noted that McCain doesn't "have a really busy day" as he keeps a close eye on Hurricane Gustav. The senior aide also said the campaign asked the state parties "to be all very respectful" given the situation and to help raise money for various relief agencies.

Also on Sunday, the White House announced President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would not be in attendance.

Instead of attending, Bush is likely to address the convention's Monday session, if there is one, via satellite, other officials said. First lady Laura Bush is scheduled to attend.

The last time an incumbent president skipped his party's convention was in 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson stayed at his Texas ranch while Democrats met in Chicago, Illinois.

On Saturday, Bush declared a state of emergency in Mississippi, following similar declarations in Louisiana and Texas.

The president ordered federal aid to supplement state and local efforts in the areas in the forecast path of Hurricane Gustav. Bush and his administration were heavily criticized in 2005 for not moving fast enough to send federal help to the Gulf Coast when Hurricane Katrina hit.

The McCain campaign arranged a charter flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Jackson, Mississippi, on Sunday afternoon for delegates who wish to return to the Gulf Coast region ahead of Hurricane Gustav.

Louisiana Republican State Party Chair Roger Villere Jr. said some of his states' delegates have already departed, while others plan to leave. Read more about the delegates' tough decision

The same plane will fly back to Minnesota if delegates have children or other family members they want to remove from the area.

A senior McCain source said Saturday that officials were considering turning the convention into a massive telethon to raise money for the Red Cross and other agencies to help with hurricane aid.

"He wants to do something service oriented if and when the storm hits and it's as bad as it's expected to be now," the McCain source said.

They are also hoping to get McCain himself to a storm-affected area as soon as possible. Video Watch as the Gulf Coast prepares for Gustav »

Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Charlie Crist of Florida, Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Rick Perry of Texas -- whose states lie in the path of the Category 3 Gustav -- will skip the GOP convention because of the storm.

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The storm has forced last-minute changes in the convention's announced schedule: If the convention -- originally scheduled to start Monday -- commences by Tuesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's speech will probably move to that night from Wednesday.

The hardest decisions, like whether to cancel a day or two of the four-day gathering or to condense days, will be made at the last second, GOP officials said, but the logistics are being discussed.

CNN's Dana Bash, John King, Scott Anderson and Peter Hamby contributed to this report.

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