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RNC blurs line between politics and governance
Throughout the second night of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, President Donald Trump repeatedly sought to use the trappings of his office to advance his re-election message, despite long-standing laws and norms separating electoral politics from official government business.
The two-hour convention featured at least four examples of the Trump administration bucking these norms:
1. The pardon. Less than 15 minutes into Tuesday’s broadcast, Trump appeared in a pre-taped video from the White House in which he signed a pardon for Jon Ponder, a convicted bank robber turned criminal justice reform activist. It was a rare blending of an official presidential action and a political party’s convention programming.
2. The naturalization ceremony. Trump was shown speaking again later in the night — this time at a White House naturalization ceremony featuring five new American citizens. Like the pardon, the ceremony was criticized as an inappropriate use of a government function for political purposes.
3. Use of the White House. Both the pardon and the naturalization ceremony — as well as an address from First Lady Melania Trump — were filmed at the White House. Trump will also accept his renomination there on Thursday. As NBC News reported, “It is unprecedented in modern politics for the White House to be used as the site of an explicitly political event, with past presidents maintaining some boundaries between the office of the presidency and their re-election bids.”
4. Pompeo’s speech. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the nation’s first top diplomat in decades to participate in a party convention, breaking with his most recent predecessors from both parties. In a further blurring of the official and political, Pompeo’s appearance was filmed from a rooftop in Jerusalem, where he is currently visiting as part of a diplomatic trip. Pompeo himself signed off on a State Department policy which states that Senate-confirmed employees “may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event,” which he appears to have violated with his taped remarks.
In addition to shattering norms, these convention features have been criticized as potential violations of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities in their official capacities.
The president and vice president are exempted from the law — but Cabinet secretaries are not, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee has already opened an investigation into Pompeo’s speech. Additionally, Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf’s role presiding over the naturalization ceremony is being called into question, as the Hatch Act states that government officials “may not engage in political activity while the employee is on duty” or “in any room or building” owned by the government.
The Trump administration has claimed that the ceremony did not violate the Hatch Act because the RNC merely used publicly-available footage of a White House event held earlier in the day.
But ethics experts pushed back on that explanation. “As a lawyer who used to enforce the Hatch Act at the White House, this is absolutely not how it works,” tweeted Daniel Jacobson, who served in the White House Counsel’s Office under President Barack Obama. “If they filmed it knowing and intending that it would be used at the convention (which they obviously did), it violates the law.”
It would not be the first time that the Trump administration has run afoul of the Hatch Act: the Office of Special Counsel, which oversees violations of the law, previously accused presidential counselor Kellaynne Conway of flouting the law and recommended her firing.
Trump did not follow the recommendation. In fact, according to the New York Times, some in the president’s circle openly delight in breaking the statute. “Some of Mr. Trump’s aides privately scoff at the Hatch Act,” the Times reported earlier this week, “and say they take pride in violating its regulations.”
More important moments from RNC Night 2
First Lady Melania Trump:
“The invisible enemy, COVID-19, swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us. My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone.”
“Like all of you, I have reflected on the racial unrest in our country. It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history. I encourage people to focus on our future while still learning from our past. We must remember that today we are all one community comprised of many races, religions and ethnicities.”
With these passages, the first lady distinguished herself from other RNC speakers in offering a softer side of the Trump campaign, becoming one of the few figures in the president’s inner circle to express sympathy to Americans mourning relatives lost to the coronavirus or protesting racial injustice.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron:
“Mr. Vice President, look at me. I am black. We are not all the same, sir. I am not in chains. My mind is my own. And you can’t tell me how to vote because of the color of my skin.”
One of the Republican Party’s most promising rising stars, Cameron delivered a blistering rebuke of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by referencing some of Biden’s past comments telling black voters that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains” and suggesting that they “ain’t black” if they support President Trump.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow:
“Then came a once-in-100-year pandemic. It was awful. Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere.”
Although the coronavirus pandemic remains ongoing, Kudlow referred to it in the past tense on Tuesday, reflecting a larger attitude inaccurately expressed throughout the convention that President Trump’s leadership has led to the virus fading away.
Two killed in Kenosha unrest: “Three people were shot early Wednesday, two fatally, law enforcement officials said, during a chaotic night of demonstrations over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black resident whose children were nearby as their father was shot this week by a white police officer.”
“In Kenosha, a third night of protests over the shooting of Mr. Blake stretched into the early morning hours of Wednesday, after demonstrators clashed with law enforcement officials near the county courthouse downtown.” (New York Times)
Trump to nominate Wolf as DHS chief: “President Trump said Tuesday he intends to nominate Chad Wolf to be the permanent, Senate-confirmed secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), elevating an official who has forcefully defended the administration's controversial immigration policies and oversaw an aggressive response to recent riots and anti-racism demonstrations in his role as acting secretary.”
. . . “Wolf's nomination comes as the administration continues to face questions over the legality of his appointment as acting secretary of the DHS. Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ investigative arm, concluded that Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, who is also serving in an acting capacity, were improperly appointed to their current roles at the helm of the department.” (CBS News)
2020 ad wars: “Donald Trump is getting pummeled on the TV airwaves, alarming Republicans and prompting the president’s allies to plead for outside help.”
“August has been a blowout: Trump has been outspent on TV more than 2-to-1 over the past month, according to the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics. And in the last two weeks, Joe Biden is outpacing the president more than 5-to-1.” (Politico)
All times Eastern.
President Donald Trump will receive an intelligence briefing at 12:15 p.m. and meet with medical professionals about COVID-19 at 3 p.m.
Vice President Mike Pence will address the Republican National Convention at 10:20 p.m. from Fort McHenry, the site where Francis Scott Key watched the battle that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The House and Senate are on recess.
The Supreme Court is on summer recess.
The Republican National Convention will continue for its third night, airing from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., with the theme “Land of Heroes.” Tonight’s speakers include:
- Vice President Mike Pence
- Second Lady Karen Pence
- Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn
- Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst
- South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem
- Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw
- New York Rep. Elise Stefanik
- New York Rep. Lee Zeldin
- Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell
- White House counselor Kellaynne Conway
- Pence’s national security adviser Keith Kellogg
- Jack Brewer, a former NFL player
- Sister Dede Byrne, a nun who is also a general surgeon and colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps
- Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina congressional candidate
- Scott Dane, executive director of the Associated Contract Loggers & Truckers of Minnesota
- Clarence Henderson, a civil rights activist
- Michael McHale, president of the National Association of Police Organizations
- Burgess Owens, a former NFL player and Utah congressional candidate
- Lara Trump, wife of the president’s son Eric
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has no public events.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will attend a virtual “Sister to Sister: Mobilization in Action Program” roundtable to launch a nationwide voter engagement program for Black women and participate in two virtual fundraisers.
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