President Donald Trump’s speech to the Republican National Convention will feature 1,500 guests on the South Lawn of the White House with no social distancing, no mask mandate and only a few of them tested for COVID ahead of the week’s grand finale.
Row after row of white folding chairs were set up on the lawn, a bottle of water with a red elephant logo on the seats. The chairs are only inches apart. Most of the guests were not wearing masks.
The president came out to check out the stage ahead of his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination – the end of a week-long convention dedicated to the Trump presidency.
He was seen doing a mic test as guests were starting to arrive. He bent down to speak to a few people in the crowd.
Most Republican members of Congress were invited to attend – although it’s unclear how many will be present. First lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the adult children of the president are also expected to attend along with many high-ranking Republican officials.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said a ‘number’ of people at the invitation-only event would be tested, which he said was ‘pretty safe’ given the ‘circumstances.’
‘There are a number of folks that’ll be tested. A number of folks that’ll be encouraged to wear masks. And to that extent, I think it’s a pretty safe environment given the circumstances,’ he told reporters at the White House on Thursday evening.
Asked whether that means some, but not all, attendees will be tested, Meadows replied: ‘I didn’t say that. … I chose my words carefully.’
Washington D.C. limits gatherings to 50 people but, because the White House is the property of the federal government, it is not subject to those restrictions.
About five empty rows of chairs in the back were being removed as convention programming prepared to start.
The evening began with a dual set of messages – speakers who praised the intelligence and empathy of President Trump and those who attacked Democrats for going after people’s personal liberties.
And the evening closed with first daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump making remarks from the White House South Lawn before introducing her father as ‘the People’s President’ as he ended the night.
‘I recognize that my dad’s communication style is not to everyone’s taste. And I know his tweets can feel a bit unfiltered,’ she said with a pause. ‘But the results speak for themselves.’
She talked of the admiration she’s seen from working Americans for her father, ‘to see these stoic machinists and steelworkers come to him with tears in their eyes and thank him for being the only person willing to go to the mat for them.’
Ivanka called that a ‘new and profound experience for him, and for me’ despite the president having ‘admired and befriended construction workers on countless jobsites,’ a reference to her father’s real estate tycoon past.
Upon moving to Washington, D.C. in 2017, Ivanka said she found that politicians would ‘silence their convictions and skip the hard fights’ in order to survive.
‘I couldn’t believe that so many politicians actually prefer to complain about a problem, rather than fix it,’ she said. ‘I was shocked to see people leave major challenges unsolved, so they can blame the other side and campaign on the same issue in the next election.’
The opening video of the final night of the convention, featuring a voice over by actor Jon Voight, railed against Democrats ‘telling you what to wear.’
The opening video of the night, featuring a voice over by actor Jon Voight, railed against Democrats ‘telling you what to wear.’
But Ja’Ron Smith, the highest-ranking African American in the White House staff, offered a different portrait than usually seen by people who follow the president on Twitter or watch his TV interviews, here he can come across as angry.
Smith talked about the compassion he saw from President Trump in the wake of the death of black Americans Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and LeGend Taliferro.
‘I have seen his true conscience. I just wish every American could see the deep empathy he showed to families whose loved ones were killed in senseless violence,’ he said.
It was a different point of view than the one most Americans saw – of President Trump defending the use of the confederate flag and blasting Black Lives Matters’ protesters for tearing down statutes with ties to the Confederacy.
Dan Scavino, the deputy White House chief of staff and the only person with President Trump’s Twitter password, talked about how Trump saw the potential in him when he was his golf caddy.
‘He saw potential in me. A spark. The possibility that I could be more, do more, and achieve more than even I thought was possible,’ Scavino said in his pre-taped remarks.
‘We all just need somebody to believe in our capacity to do great things. Donald Trump believed in me when I was a teenage golf caddie and he was already one of the wealthiest, most famous people on the planet. He saw my potential, even when I couldn’t,’ he added.
‘He sees greatness in our country, too. And in each of you. He believes the world you dream about at night can be yours,’ he added.
Most of the speeches of the night were focused on President Trump and his bid for a second term.
But Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the only black member of the president’s Cabinet, started his speech by mentioning Jacob Blake, the black, 29-year-old father of four who was shot seven times in front of his children by police.
‘Before I begin, I’d like to say that our hearts go out to the Blake family and the other families who have been impacted by the tragic events in Kenosha,’ he said.
Protests have sparked up around the city and there has been violence in the wake of Blake’s shooting, which he survived but is in critical condition.
President Trump has touted himself as the ‘law and order’ president and threatened to send in federal officials to Kenosha and other cities with Black Lives Matters demonstrations.
Meanwhile, protests are taking place outside of the White House ahead of the president’s speech.
The sounds of blowing horns, playing music and making noise could be heard, according to reports from the South Lawn.
The demonstrations were taking place on Black Lives Matter Plaza, a few blocks from the White House.
Another large protest is planned for Friday outside of the White House in response to the majority of the Republican National Convention taking place in the city this week.
Other speakers encouraged voters – even Democratic ones – to support President Trump this fall.
Congressman Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, a Democrat who became a Republican during the impeachment process, praised President Trump’s for welcoming him to the GOP.
‘I met with President Trump and he made me feel more welcome in the Oval Office than Nancy Pelosi ever made me feel in her caucus… and a few days later, I officially changed parties and became a Republican,’ he said.
‘Republicans, Independents, and even Democrats, they all know that in President Trump’s America, we have a strong military, strong support for our police, strong support for our Veterans and Seniors,’ he added.
And Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the highest-ranking Republican on Capitol Hill, complained Democrats wanted to tell people how many hamburgers they can eat.
‘They want to tell you what kind of car you can drive. What sources of information are credible. And even how many hamburgers you can eat,’ he said in his pre-taped remarks, given from his home state of Kentucky.
Trump will use his Republican Convention nomination acceptance speech Thursday evening to rail against Joe Biden as ‘extreme’ and create a clear divide between the two party’s vision for the next four years.
‘At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies, or two agendas,’ Trump is expected to say in excerpts from the speech obtained by Politico and published Thursday morning.
‘We have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years,’ he will say. ‘At the Democrat convention, you barely heard a word about their agenda. But that’s not because they don’t have one. It’s because their agenda is the most extreme set of proposals ever put forward by a major party nominee.’
Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s director of communications, told reporters during a press call Thursday that the president will use his time focusing on failures of Biden because he says the media won’t do it.
‘The media generally has ignored or glossed over many of the criticisms of Joe Biden’s record and what his plans for the future are should he get elected,’ Murtaugh said.
He added that Trump’s speech will be ‘tough’ because Americans have ‘tough choices in front of them… and unless the president does it, the media will be tempted not to cover it.’
The venue for the remarks was relocated several times with constantly shifting lockdown rules in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Law and order will be the focus of the president’s speech, which was still being revised Wednesday night, but aides have signaled to the Associated Press that the contents will not be as dark as some of his other previous remarks – mainly his ‘American carnage’ inaugural address.
On Thursday evening, Trump is expected to offer himself as the last defense against the radical left threatening the American way as his recent stump speech has centered on anarchists overrunning city streets.
The president’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner said Trump will give a message of hope for the next four years while proposing solutions for issues currently facing Americans.
‘Last week, what you heard, was a lot of complaints and a lot of rhetoric, a lot of people who were complaining about a lot of things in America without offering a lot of solutions,’ Kushner said during an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box Thursday morning.
‘Tonight, what you’re going to hear from President Trump, is a very hopeful vision for America,’ he said.
‘He’s obviously going to explain this is a serious election with serious consequences and he’s going to explain what the consequences would be of making a change at this point,’ Ivanaka Trump’s husband said.
In recent days, the president has framed the violent unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting as fallout from inept leadership in Democrat-run areas, and the inability of those individuals to control their cities.
Incidentally, the mayor of Kenosha, John Antaramian, is a Democrat.
As Black Lives Matter protests and riots ravaged the nation after George Floyd’s death starting at the end of May and prevailing since then, Trump has further painted himself as the ‘law and order’ president.
Trump announced Wednesday that he would send in the National Guard to Kenosha and criticized Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers for not doing so – even though he already deployed guard troops on Monday.
Some Democrats are worried that the social unrest, looting, rioting and clashes in the battleground state and beyond are feeding Trump’s argument that this is what life would look like under the so-called radical left.
The Democratic Party is especially worried that the more violence suburban swing voters witness, the more their sympathy for the peaceful protesters will diminish.
Initially, Trump was scheduled to make his speech from the original location of the Republican Convention in Charlotte, North Caroline. But after Democratic Governor Roy Cooper told organizers they could not give Trump his desired crowd for the speech, the president moved it to Jacksonville, Florida, where, at the time, lockdown orders were less restrictive.
Once Florida went back into lockdown due to surges in cases, Trump was forced to scramble yet again to choose a new location for the speech.
His decision for the White House has been slammed by critics who claim it is in violation of the Hatch Act.
Trump has defended the move, claiming it is the cheapest and most convenient alternative and saying the Hatch Act does not apply to the president – and his administration insists it’s OK because it’s his residence.