President Trump and the Republican Party placed the powers of the federal government in service to Trump’s reelection on Tuesday — staging pardoning and naturalization ceremonies as part of the GOP’s official nominating convention and using the White House Rose Garden for a speech by the first lady, who extolled “my own American Dream” of citizenship after a childhood under communist rule.
As the highlight speech on a night organized around the theme of the United States as "the land of opportunity," Melania Trump's immigrant story was meant to contrast legal immigration with the illegal immigration the president has argued is a scourge and a danger.
Her address also opened with an emotional tribute to Americans lost to the coronavirus pandemic, part of an apparent effort by her husband's campaign to shore up support amid widespread public unhappiness over his handling of the crisis.
"Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this pandemic," she said.
The first lady’s speech was part of a patchwork of themes that also included messages opposing abortion, attacking Democratic nominee Joe Biden as a dangerous radical, highlighting President Trump’s ties to evangelical Christians and praising administration efforts to combat the opioid crisis.
The format bucked traditional norms of diplomacy and launched a House investigation into whether Pompeo violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that separates government functions from political ones — and a line that Trump and many of his aides have appeared to delight in blurring.
Pompeo's address, delivered with the night skyline of Jerusalem behind him, celebrated Trump's relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to "this very city of God, Jerusalem."
The first lady's live address in a newly renovated and redesigned Rose Garden cast Melania Trump as a bridge to female voters disenchanted with the president and as an admirable example of legal immigration to the United States.
A live audience that included the president and Vice President Pence heard her address. Guests were seated with some distance between chairs but far less than the six feet recommended as a precaution against the spread of the novel coronavirus. Most speakers who have addressed the convention have done so without an audience.
With President Trump's campaign strategists privately saying that suburban women are a weak spot for him, they hope she will help attract voters from that crucial bloc.
In addition to other well-known speakers such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Tuesday night's program was aimed in part at highlighting everyday Americans who support Trump's presidency, the campaign said.
Those included an eighth-generation resident of Swan's Island, Maine, who talked about the Trump administration's assistance to the lobster industry; a Minnesota dairy farmer who praised Trump's trade actions; and a former Planned Parenthood employee from Texas who now opposes abortion.
In addition, Trump's son Eric and younger daughter Tiffany were part of a dynastic showcase that will present each of the president's adult children this week. His teenage son, Barron, is not expected to speak.
Tiffany Trump asserted that certain viewpoints are filtered or muted by technology platforms and media companies, an allegation her father has also made. Her remarks echo conspiracy theories that claim conservative views are suppressed by the media, government or other forces.
“Ask yourself, why are we prevented from seeing certain information? Why is one viewpoint promoted, while others are hidden?” she said. “The answer is control, because division and controversy create profit.”
Eric Trump sought to appeal to the "silent majority" that he said understands the stakes of a return to a Democratic president.
His father lost the popular vote in 2016 but captured key states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan to win more electoral college votes.
Democrats "want to destroy the monuments of our forefathers" and disrespect American traditions including the Pledge of Allegiance, he said. "Every day, my father fights for the American people, the forgotten man and woman of this country.'
Like many of the night's speakers, Eric and Tiffany Trump delivered political endorsement speeches from inside federal buildings, which Democrats say violates federal law.
After the Daily Beast and others publicized the tweet, Mendoza deleted the message and posted that she had "retweeted a very long thread earlier without reading every post within the thread."
"My apologies for not paying attention to the intent of the whole message. That does not reflect my feelings or personal thoughts whatsoever," she wrote.
Mendoza was meant to appear as a representative of "angel moms," a term Trump has popularized among his base for women whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants.
The president made an unadvertised appearance less than 15 minutes into Tuesday night's broadcast, where he signed a pardon for Jon Ponder, a convicted criminal who turned his life around with help from a former FBI agent. The two men, both scheduled as speakers Tuesday, appeared alongside Trump at the White House.
The segment highlighted Trump’s record of issuing pardons to people with whom he has forged a direct connection. Trump has largely bypassed the traditional pardon system, in which convicted people appeal to the Justice Department.
Paul, who built his national following in part on his opposition to foreign conflicts, sought in his address to bestow his antiwar coalition on Trump, saying that Biden was more likely to lead the United States into new conflicts.
"Joe Biden will continue to spill our blood and treasure," Paul said. "President Trump will bring our heroes home. If you hate war like I hate war, if you want us to quit sending $50 billion to Afghanistan for luxury hotels... you need to support President Trump for another term."
Although Biden voted in 2002 to authorize the use of military force in Iraq, he opposed the Iraq War three years later and said that his vote had been a mistake.
Far less visible than other recent first ladies, Melania Trump was making her biggest speech since the 2016 Republican National Convention, when she was accused of lifting themes and language from then-first lady Michelle Obama.
Her husband's policies as president have targeted legal and illegal immigration in ways that would have limited, if not prevented, his wife's immigrant experience. A model born in Slovenia, Melania Trump came to the country more than two decades ago under a specialty work visa of a sort now much harder to get under President Trump. She later became a citizen and assisted in the immigration and naturalization of her parents and sister, an example of "chain migration" that her husband has said should be forbidden.
Trump made a second unadvertised appearance Tuesday, to preside over a naturalization ceremony for five immigrants, which also featured acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf. Speaking at the White House, Trump praised the three women and two men from all corners of the globe for their perseverance.
"You followed the rules, and you obeyed the laws. You learned your history, embraced our values and proved yourselves to be men and women of the highest integrity," Trump said.
Trump has always put gauze over the specifics of his wife’s immigration story, even as he made immigration his defining policy issue for an upset victory four years ago. The topic remains an animating force for Trump’s most loyal supporters but has taken a back seat this year as the president seeks to win reelection amid a pandemic that has killed some 175,000 Americans and put millions out of work or in danger of losing their jobs.
His border wall remains almost entirely unfinished and was never paid for by Mexico, as he promised in 2016. He has melded a hard-line immigration posture with an anti-crime message, as was meant to be illustrated Tuesday with Mendoza's canceled address.
The night's antiabortion message was underscored by the appearance of a former Planned Parenthood clinic director, Abby Johnson, who says she walked away from her job after witnessing the abortion of a 13-week-old fetus.
Another speaker, Nicholas Sandmann, a teenager involved in a viral incident last year near the Lincoln Memorial, decried “cancel” culture and presented himself as a target of the “full war machine of the mainstream media.” He described the aftermath of a 2019 incident when he wore a “Make America Great Again” hat during an annual antiabortion demonstration in Washington and crossed paths with a Native American activist. The interaction, caught on video and widely covered by the national media, sparked partisan outrage.
“I learned that what was happening to me had a name,” Sandmann said in his speech. “It was called being canceled. As in annulled. As in revoked. As in made void.”
Sandmann's family filed defamation lawsuits against eight news organizations and has since settled with CNN and The Washington Post for undisclosed amounts. The Post has maintained that its reporting was accurate and fair.
Pompeo's address was videotaped in Jerusalem as he was traveling in the Middle East and Africa following the announcement of a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates this month.
A House panel is launching an investigation into the speech, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) said Tuesday. The move comes as Biden's campaign and other Democrats are accusing Pompeo of using his office for political gain.
Pompeo aides have said his remarks were being made in his personal capacity and that no State Department resources would be used, though Pompeo is traveling at government expense and generally must use government-approved secure communications. The Trump campaign listed him Tuesday under his official title and honorific.
Philip Rucker contributed to this report.
Naturalization ceremony held during convention raises questions of potential Hatch Act violations
By Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Acting Department of Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf conducted a naturalization ceremony at the White House for five new citizens during the Republican National Convention, an official act by an administration official during a political convention that underscores the blurring lines between the political and official restrictions in federal law throughout this week’s events.
“On behalf of everyone here today, I’d like to express my gratitude to you, Mr. President, for hosting this naturalization ceremony here at the White House. To our candidates, it is my honor to administer the Oath of Allegiance and welcome you as our fellow citizens,” Wolf said as he kicked off the ceremony, which aired about an hour into Tuesday night’s official convention programming.
The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from participating in politics in their official roles. According to the Office of Special Counsel’s guidelines for White House employees, officials must take leave to participate in or attend an event for the Republican National Convention. Depending on where the political event is held at the White House, there are strict restrictions that bar employees from attending the event at any time, even while off duty, according to the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that enforces the Hatch Act.
Kathleen Clark, government ethics expert at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said Trump’s and Wolf’s participation in the oath ceremony as a part of the official convention programming was in violation of criminal provisions in federal law that prohibits “a person employed in any administrative position” from using “his official authority for the purpose of … affecting … the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President.” While the president and vice president are exempt from the civil provisions of the law, they are subject to criminal provisions derived from the Hatch Act, she said.
“We just witnessed President Trump and DHS official Chad Wolf violate a criminal Hatch Act provision that prohibits anyone employed in ‘an administrative position’ from using his official authority to affect the nomination or election of any presidential candidate,” she said Tuesday night. “Breathtaking in their contempt for the law.”
A White House official said Tuesday night that there was no violation of law because the naturalization ceremony was held separately from the convention and was an official White House event that was publicized earlier in the day. The video was available to the public earlier in the day on Tuesday, and the campaign decided to use publicly available content for campaign purposes, the official said.
In a statement earlier Tuesday, White House spokesman Judd Deere had said that “RNC Convention events will be planned and executed, at whatever the venue, by the Trump Campaign and RNC. Any government employees who may participate will do so in compliance with the Hatch Act.”
According to television and RNC video feeds of first lady Melania Trump’s speech at the Rose Garden, among administration officials in attendance appeared to include White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff.
Further blurring lines between official and political work, the president also held a pardon ceremony at the White House during Tuesday’s official convention programming.
In addition, two men in Marine dress uniforms opened the door for the president as he entered the room for the oath ceremony. According to the Department of Defense, “military service members and federal employees acting in their official capacity may not engage in activities that associate the DOD with any partisan political campaign or elections, candidate, cause or issue,” according to an agency directive and the Hatch Act.
However, whether the Marines violated the department directive may depend on whether the Marines knew the event was being filmed for the convention, Clark said.
“This is a clear violation. This is so obviously, blatantly, insultingly a Hatch Act violation that it’s starting to seem like the Trump administration is going out of its way to find new ways to violate the law. We’ll be filing a complaint,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Melania Trump’s plea to mothers: Teach your kids about dangers of social media
By Philip Rucker
First lady Melania Trump delivered a plea to mothers across America: Beware the meanness and manipulation of social media, and teach your children how to behave responsibly.
“How to talk to your children about downsides of technology and their relationships with their peers?" Trump asked. “Like every parent in this country, I feel there are so many lessons to teach our son...but there are just not enough hours in the day to do it all."
The first lady — who has adopted anti-bullying as her highest-profile initiative, dubbed “Be Best" — made no mention of her husband, who is prolific on social media and proudly contributes to its toxicity.
President Trump routinely uses his Twitter following to bully opponents real and perceived, often with falsehoods and innuendo.
Melania Trump expresses sympathy for coronavirus victims: ‘You are not alone’
By Philip Rucker
First lady Melania Trump delivered the first expression of sympathy at the Republican National Convention for the more than 175,000 Americans who have died of the coronavirus.
Delivering her keynote address live Tuesday night from the White House’s newly renovated Rose Garden, Trump also said Americans who are anxious or suffering through the pandemic “are not alone.”
“The invisible enemy, covid-19, swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us,” Trump said. “My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering.”
The first lady added, “I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know, you are not alone. My husband’s administration will not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment for a vaccine available to everyone. Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted in this pandemic.”
Trump’s direct references to the pandemic’s devastation and expression of empathy stood in contrast to her husband’s commentary about the coronavirus. President Trump recently said of the rising death toll, “It is what it is,” and other speakers at this week’s convention have sought to ignore the pandemic or to speak of it in the past tense, as if the worst of the virus had passed.
Melania Trump speaks live before a large mask-less audience
By Colby Itkowitz
Melania Trump spoke live from the White House lawn before an audience where seats were close together and few people wore masks.
People who meet with President Trump are given a rapid coronavirus test, though it’s unclear whether everyone who attended the first lady’s speech had been tested.
The image of a mask-less crowd gathered to hear the first lady is at odds with the reality most Americans are experiencing because of the pandemic, where many officials have imposed regulations requiring masks outside the home and to socially distance from other people as the virus persists.
Fact Checker: Trump built on Obama’s success in fighting ISIS
By Meg Kelly
“Today, because of the president’s determination and leadership, the ISIS caliphate is wiped out, its evil leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, and our brave soldiers are on their way home.”
— Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
The so-called caliphate built by the Islamic State has been dismantled, but President Trump cannot take all of the credit for its demise. President Barack Obama set up virtually all the structures that did the key fighting against the Islamic State under Trump, and more fighters trained and munitions were dropped under Obama than under Trump.
Under Obama, all Iraqi cities (with exception of western half of Mosul) held by the militant group — such as eastern Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi and Tikrit — were retaken by end of his term, as was much of the northeastern strip of Syria along Turkish border.
The basic plan of attack in 2017 was also developed under Obama, though Trump sped up the tempo by changing the rules of engagement. Moreover, the loss of physical territory does not mean the group is defeated. Reports estimate that 20,000 to 30,000 Islamic State militants may remain in Iraq and Syria, as opposed to 700 when the United States last withdrew. U.S. Central Command warns that, “absent sustained [counterterrorism] pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory.”
Thus while the caliphate has been eliminated, the Islamic State remains a threat. In August 2019, the Defense Department inspector general warned: “Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State … solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria. The reduction of U.S. forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence.”
In other words, the Islamic State’s loss of territory does not mean the organization’s end.
Fact Checker: Pompeo oversells North Korea progress
By Glenn Kessler
“The president lowered the temperature and, against all odds, got North Korean leadership to the table. No nuclear tests, no long-range missile tests, and Americans held captive in North Korea came home to their families, as did the precious remains of scores of our heroes who fought in Korea.”
— Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
It was not difficult for Trump to convince the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, to attend a summit. Previous presidents would not allow such a meeting, legitimizing the authoritarian government, unless Pyongyang gave up its nuclear weapons programs. Trump imposed no such conditions but made no progress despite participating in three summits.
Experts said Pyongyang continued to improve its nuclear and missile programs. “North Korea has been building new missiles, new capabilities, new weapons as fast as anybody on the planet with the 115th-most powerful economy in the world,” Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten said in January.
Pompeo significantly oversells progress on obtaining the remains of U.S. soldiers. Fifty-five sets of skeletal remains were given to the U.S. military after the first Trump-Kim summit in 2018, but the Pentagon later abandoned efforts to work with North Korea on the issue, saying it had been unable to coordinate with the North Korean army regarding any resumption of joint recovery operations.
Fact Checker: Misleading claims on Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal
By Salvador Rizzo
“Joe Biden has allowed radicals like AOC to craft his environmental policies. The Green New Deal would put entire swaths of our country out of a job.”
— Eveleth, Minn., Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich (D)
Biden’s plan on energy and the environment is not as far-reaching as the Green New Deal sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and other Democrats.
Biden’s plan calls for “net-zero emissions no later than 2050.” That’s 30 years from now. The Green New Deal operates on a 10-year timeline and includes more stringent energy restrictions and steeper investments in green infrastructure.
Biden’s plan says that “we must look at all low- and zero-carbon technologies,” leaving the door open to carbon capture and other fossil-fuel-based sources.
A unity task force with Biden representatives and advisers to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recommended that “to reach net-zero emissions as rapidly as possible, Democrats commit to eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 through technology-neutral standards for clean energy and energy efficiency.” That’s a 15-year timeline — half the time envisioned in Biden’s plan — but for the moment, these are simply recommendations that Biden says he will consider.
Moreover, the “technology-neutral” language gives Democrats some wiggle room. The term encompasses renewable energy such as solar and wind, and nonrenewable sources such as nuclear or carbon capture.
Fact Checker: Trump didn’t bring jobs back to Ohio and Pennsylvania
By Salvador Rizzo
“The president is fighting to rescue American jobs and industries for places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, jobs that were needlessly shipped overseas.”
— Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette M. Nuñez (R)
The number of jobs has been mostly flat in Ohio during Trump’s presidency, at about 5.5 million, and fell when the coronavirus pandemic began. The same happened in Pennsylvania. Both are swing states, but there’s no evidence that Trump has been returning jobs there from overseas.
Trump asked top advisers in the Department of Homeland Security whether Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, could be sold after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Fact Checker: Trump has broken more promises than he’s kept
By Meg Kelly
“Promises made, and promises, for the first time, were kept.”
— Eric Trump
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump made more than 280 promises, though many were contradictory or just uttered in a single campaign event. But on Oct. 22, 2016, Trump issued what he called his “Contract with the American Voter.” This was a specific plan of action that would guide his administration, starting from the first day, and listed 60 promises. He even signed it with his distinctive signature.
Eric Trump defends his father’s foreign policy but misstates some of the facts
By Josh Dawsey
President Trump’s son Eric Trump gave a strong defense of his father’s foreign policy, but at least two of his claims at least lacked context.
Eric Trump said “never-ending wars were finally ended,” but it’s unclear what wars were entirely ended in the Trump presidency. He has certainly pulled out troops from some countries and expressed a desire to end wars, but there remains conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, the two main wars he inherited.
While the president declared “Peace in the Middle East” and his administration recently brokered a deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, that is far from wholesale peace in the Middle East. But like Trump’s other children, Eric Trump focused more on his father’s political and policy positions and Joe Biden’s positions than offering personal stories and reflections on the president’s character.
Fact Checker: Eric Trump puts Americans on Mars too soon
By Salvador Rizzo
“The American spirit ... soon, under my father’s leadership, it will send Americans to Mars.”
— Businessman Eric Trump
Not quite. NASA has spent years preparing a “Journey to Mars” and plans to have astronauts orbiting the planet in the 2030s. Trump has called space travel a priority, and his administration could choose to speed things up, a NASA spokeswoman told us in 2018.
Under Trump, NASA announced plans for the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, which would be built in the 2020s. This is a key step, since astronauts would use this platform orbiting the moon as a testing ground in deep space and then as a hub between Earth and Mars. But the space agency does not expect to have astronauts landing on Mars until the late 2030s at the earliest.
Fact Checker: Eric Trump’s hyped claim on greatest economy ever
By Meg Kelly
“Regulations were cut and the economy soared to new heights — heights never seen before.”
— Eric Trump
This is a classic case when repetition doesn’t make it true. We fact-checked a similar claim last night, and the president himself has repeated it more than 350 times.
Before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses and sent unemployment soaring, the president could certainly brag about the state of the economy in his first three years as president. But he ran into trouble when he made a play for the history books to say it was the best economy in U.S. history.
By just about any important measure, the economy under Trump did not do as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton. The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in 2019, slipping from 2.9 percent in 2018 and 2.4 percent in 2017. But in 1997, 1998 and 1999, GDP grew 4.5 percent, 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Yet even that period paled in comparison against the 1950s and 1960s. Growth between 1962 and 1966 ranged from 4.4 percent to 6.6 percent. In postwar 1950 and 1951, it was 8.7 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate reached a low of 3.5 percent under Trump, but it dipped as low as 2.5 percent in 1953.
Trump often claims credit for cutting regulations more than any other president. Many experts credit Jimmy Carter with historic deregulation of the airline and trucking industries; he also lifted the ban on brewing beer at home, resulting in an explosion of new breweries.
Fact Checker: Biden opposes defunding police
By Glenn Kessler
“Biden has pledged to defund the police.”
This is a false claim that has earned Trump Four Pinocchios. Biden does not support “defunding police,” according to the candidate and the campaign. The phrase generally means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities to public safety and changing the tactics used by police officers. Biden backs advocates’ calls to increase spending on social programs separate from local police budgets, but he also wants more funding for police reforms such as body cameras and training on community policing approaches.
“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden told CBS. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness. And, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.” Biden has come under fire from the left for his position and for proposing to spend an additional $300 million a year on the community policing program started in the Clinton administration.
Fact Checker: Iowa governor hypes Trump’s aid to farmers
By Salvador Rizzo
“Whether it’s providing needed relief to farmers who were the target of China’s unfair trade practices, hammering out new free — and fair — trade deals, or fighting for workers and small businesses who were hit hard by covid-19, we have a president and an administration who gets things done.”
— Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R)
President Trump has barely shifted the trade landscape for American farmers, and some economists say his trade war with China has made matters worse.
First, Trump imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods from China, complaining that Asia’s largest economy had been gaming global trade rules and manipulating its currency for years. In retaliation, China reduced purchases of U.S. crops such as soybeans. Then, Trump directed subsidies to American farmers to soften the blow.
The two countries eventually resolved some sticking points in the first phase of a trade deal that took effect in February. But China is lagging far behind in its commitment to purchase $200 billion in agricultural, manufactured and energy products above 2017 levels.
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