RNC live: Van Drew, an ex-Democrat, says his old party is pushing a 'radical, socialist agenda'

USA TODAY staff Published 9:12 PM EDT Aug 27, 2020Refresh often for updates throughout Day 4 of the RNC.They s

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Refresh often for updates throughout Day 4 of the RNC.

They scheduled a White House speech Thursday night and a Donald Trump infomercial broke out.

More than 1,000 people (estimated) gathered on the South Lawn and watched a broadcast of the Republican Party convention leading into Trump's acceptance speech later in the evening.

The scene had the air of one of those campaign rallies Trump held before the COVID-19 pandemic. Electronic Trump-Pence banners flanked the stage before the convention broadcast. Red, white, and blue bunting festooned the stage.

The COVID issue hovered, a little. Some people wore masks to protect themselves from possible spread of the virus, but most did not.

The White House staging also had aspects of a television show or a Broadway play, though one that got some lousy reviews.

Alyssa Mastromonaco, an official in Barack Obama's White House, tweeted that "I hear that the Office of Special Counsel says this WH South Lawn obscenity is legal. Cool. I was told by OUR counsel I shouldn’t hang the framed front page of the Poughkeepsie Journal from the night Obama won."

Protesters gathered beyond the White House gates to try and disrupt the event with music and chants. The press corps could hear them, somewhat, but the Trump fans who were closer to the stage probably couldn't.

The Trump supporters sat in chairs were arrayed in a semi-circle in front of the stage just in front of the White House, beside risers filled with still photographers and camera people.

Planners hung bright stage lights over the speakers' podium, and roving cameras on cranes swept the scene.

There was no taped music at this rally. A professional singer offered songs like "Ave Maria," and had the crowd join him for group renditions of "America The Beautiful" and "God Bless America."

Not everyone felt blessed. The set-up did not sit well with people who said the White House should not be used for political campaigns.

"A campaign banner on the people’s lawn?" said Tim Miller, political director of an organization called Republican Voters Against Trump. "It looks like what you’d see from some tin pot South American caudillo."

David Jackson

Van Drew: ex-Democrat says his party pushing a 'radical, socialist agenda'

Democrats used their convention last week to highlight a number of high-profile Republicans who were endorsing Joe Biden: John Kasich, Christie Whitman and Colin Powell, among them.

On Thursday, it was Trump’s turn to showcase at least one prominent former Democrat who is now backing him.

New Jersey Congressman Jefferson Van Drew, who switched parties in December and became a Republican after Trump courted him, appeared on the GOP stage to praise the president and tell viewers how much his old party is peddling a "radical, socialist agenda."

"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," the freshman congressman said. 

"In President Trump's America, we have a strong supply chain, good schools, we're energy independent and protect our environment. "There are a lot of Democrats who support our President…and are disgusted for what their old party  - what my old party – has become.

Before he spoke, a video of former Democratic voters talked about why they support Trump to promote the idea that Trump appeals to those who feel the party no longer represents them.

As a Democrat, Van Drew was one of only two Democrats to break ranks and vote against both articles of impeachment against Trump last fall. It was the backlash from Democrats over those anti-impeachment votes that helped propel him to leave the Democratic Party after decades as a local and state officeholder.

Ledyard King

McCarthy: Choice could not be clearer

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promoted the country’s accomplishments under President Donald Trump while warning voters against how Democrats would dismantle his progress.

The California Republican lauded the great economy by Trump tearing up bad trade deals, killing terrorists and restoring law and order at the border. But he said Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, would dismantle institutions and destroy the economy.

“The choice before you could not be clearer,” McCarthy said. “Forward in freedom or backward in socialism? Forward in prosperity or backward in poverty? Forward in personal liberty or backward in government control. I know which direction I’m headed. Join us, because the best is yet to come.”

Bart Jansen

Graham: ‘Our country is facing trouble’

Republicans have been eager to portray the nation’s troubles – from deep divisions over race to the coronavirus pandemic -- as largely issues the past, thanks to President Donald Trump.

Occasionally it’s been the opening prayer where some of those problems have been addressed most directly. Franklin Graham, the son of the American evangelist Billy Graham, followed that pattern Thursday. 

“Our country is facing trouble,” said Graham, perhaps the best known Christian leader to address the convention thus far. “We have witnessed injustice. We need your help. We ask that you would unite our hearts.”

— John Fritze

Fourth, final night of RNC is underway

President Donald Trump will formally accept his party’s nomination Thursday during the final night of the Republican National Convention, now underway.

As in past nights, Republicans will feature business owners and advocates for GOP causes before getting to the main event: Trump’s speech, delivered from the South Lawn of the White House. The president will be introduced by his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump.

Excerpts of Trump’s speech released earlier Thursday indicated the president would spend at least a portion of his remarks trying to paint Democrat Joe Biden as “extreme,” despite a career in office that has placed him firmly him in the party’s center.

Trump is set to take the podium after 10 p.m. ET.

John Fritze

A packed house amid a pandemic

The president’s guests streamed through the White House throughout the day – none were seen wearing a mask. One guest, posing for the obligatory photo at the press secretary’s podium in the briefing room, joked as he donned a mask – then quickly removed it before the picture was snapped.

A sea of white chairs assembled on the White House South Lawn, where at least 1,000 people turned out for President Donald Trump’s nomination acceptance speech, showed a blatant disregard for social distancing – a key safety measure the president’s own health experts say is critical to containing the spread of the coronavirus. Less than half the crowd were spotted wearing masks while some donned face coverings around their necks.  

Over the four-day spectacle, the Trump campaign appeared to cast aside widely accepted safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus despite the pandemic derailing their plans for a more traditional convention.

Earlier this week First Lady Melania Trump spoke before roughly 100 seated guests in the newly renovated Rose Garden while Vice President Mike Pence was spotted shaking hands and fist-bumping audience members, many of whom were unmasked, after his speech before a crowd at Fort McHenry.

Roger G. Darling, a former White House physician under President Bill Clinton and chief medical officer for Patronus Medical Corp, which partnered with the RNC for the event, said officials were working “to make certain proper protocols are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals.”

The protocols, which he declined to detail, are in “full compliance” with the Centers for Disease Control, the District of Columbia of Public Health and other leading authorities, he said.

Though federal government employees are exempted from Washington, D.C., guidelines, city regulations currently prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said “a number of people will be tested,” but he would not specify how many. White House rules require anyone who comes in close contact with the president to be tested. Meadows also said that everybody will be encouraged – but not required - to wear masks.

“I think it’s a pretty safe environment,” he said.

David Jackson and Courtney Subramanian

Quantifying Trump’s boost from police groups

The Trump campaign’s “law and order” theme will continue into the final night of the convention when Pat Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, will praise the president for giving law enforcement agencies the “support and tools” to end rioting and looting.

Wednesday night’s lineup included the president of the National Association of Police Organizations explaining why his group endorsed Trump.

How much of a boost can police organizations make?

In a published study of the last presidential election, researcher Michael Zoorob found that Trump had performed better in places with a higher density of Fraternal Order of Police lodges than Mitt Romney had four years earlier.

Zoorob estimated that support from the FOP could have resulted in Trump gaining about 15,000 votes in Michigan and about 31,000 votes in Pennsylvania. That exceeds the number of votes by which Trump won Michigan but is not as high as his 44,292 vote margin in Pennsylvania.

Zoorob told USA TODAY that his study is consistent with the substantial scholarship in political science showing that well-organized, federated groups like the Fraternal Order of Police influence electoral politics.

“However, I wouldn't overstate the importance of the findings,” he added.

In Pennsylvania, the state where the Fraternal Order of Police was founded, and where, with 40,000 members, its membership is largest, the estimated effect was a 0.7 percentage point shift from Romney to Trump.

“But in close elections,” he wrote in an email, “swings of that magnitude are important.”

Maureen Groppe 

Donald Trump campaign workers take over Donald Trump's White House

As President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his nomination acceptance speech, two separate Trump teams are inside and outside the White House getting ready for the big show.

Inside, Trump aides are in their offices doing normal administration business.

A visiting team of Trump and Republican National Committee officials, workers, and volunteers are outside putting the final touches on the stage for the Trump speech that will close the week-long GOP convention.

Administration officials said they are keeping the work separate because of concerns about the Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from engaging in political activity on government property.

"RNC Convention events have been planned and executed by the Trump Campaign and RNC," said White House spokesman Judd Deere. "Any government employees who have or may participate are doing so in compliance with the Hatch Act."

More: 'It is just so wrong': Mike Pompeo under fire for speaking to RNC from Israel

The campaign people are generally hanging out on the South Lawn, where the event will be held. As campaign workers outside tested the sound system, employees inside the White House could hear the strains of opera icon Luciano Pavarotti belting out "Nessun dorma," which is Italian for "let no one sleep."

Some policy analysts aren't buying the government-campaign distinctions.

They said Trump's decision to give a convention speech on White House property at least undermines the spirit of the Hatch Act and turns the venerable building into a party headquarters.

"It blends the official with the political in a way normally seen with dictators," said Jordan Libowitz, communications director with the organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Trump himself is not subject to the Hatch Act, but Libowitz said "everyone else who works in the White House are. And the law is clear that no taxpayer dollars can go toward this. Whether or not there end up being any legal violations, there will certainly be ethical ones."

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act, sent out statements this week noting that presidents are not subject to the law. They also noted that "there are certain areas of the White House where the Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from engaging in political activity," and those include the South Lawn.

David Jackson

President Trump's speech will be introduced by a special guest: Ivanka

A high-profile adviser and supporter will introduce President Donald Trump before his acceptance speech tonight.

Her name: Ivanka Trump.

The president's daughter plans to focus on the administration's agenda for working families, according to excerpts of her prepared speech, seeking to appeal to women voters who could be decisive in key states.

“President Trump is advancing the American values of work and family," Ivanka Trump plans to say. "Four years ago, I told you my father would focus on making childcare affordable and accessible. As part of Republican tax cuts, in 2019 alone our child tax credit put over $2,000 dollars into the pockets of 40 million American families.”

Ivanka Trump also plans to critique Democrat Joe Biden on these issues, according to another excerpt: "Since the day he took the oath of office, I’ve watched my father take on the failed policies of the past and do what no other leader has done before."

David Jackson

Biden defends Catholicism against GOP attacks

Democratic nominee Joe Biden defended his Catholicism on Thursday after speakers at the Republican National Convention questioned his faith because of his support for abortion rights.

“I practice all the elements of my faith,” Biden told MSNBC. “And my private beliefs relative to how I would deal with the church doctrine is different than my imposing that doctrine on every other person in the world, equally decent Christians and Jews and Muslims and Buddhists, et cetera.”

Biden has said his religion helped him cope with the 1972 deaths of his first wife and infant daughter and the 2015 death of his grown son. He said Thursday that he never misses Mass, but that he doesn’t proselytize.

“It's what gets me through the really difficult times in my life,” Biden said. “And I believe in it very strongly.”

His comments came after Sister Dede Byrne, of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and Lou Holtz, a former college football coach at Notre Dame, each questioned his religion. The speakers each said the Democratic ticket of Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris would be the most ardent supporters of abortion rights ever.

Byrne, a doctor, said life unequivocally begins a conception and that she is “not just pro-life, I’m pro-eternal life.” Holtz said Biden is among politicians who are “Catholic in name only.”

But the University of Notre Dame president, Fr. John Jenkins, issued a public statement after Holtz’s speech saying Catholics may judge the moral quality of another’s actions, but “we must never question the sincerity of another’s faith.”

One in five voters in 2016 were Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center. More than half (52%) voted for President Donald Trump while 44% voted for Hillary Clinton.

In a June Pew Research Center survey, 52% of all Catholics supported Biden’s candidacy although Trump was still carrying white Catholics.

Biden bristled Thursday at having to defend his beliefs against President Donald Trump.

“I think it’s kind of preposterous for a guy who hardly ever darkens the door of a church,” Biden said.

Bart Jansen

Trump signals attacks on Biden at final night of Republican convention

Republican speakers at this week's RNC have walked a line between trying to present an "uplifting" vision and unloading on Democrat Joe Biden. President Donald Trump's campaign signaled Thursday his remarks will focus on the second approach.

Trump will formally accept his party's nomination from the White House in the 10 p.m. ET hour on Thursday, the final and most important event of the convention. Excerpts of the president's address released by the campaign on Thursday show Trump will try to paint Biden as a product of his party's far left wing (despite the former vice president's longstanding reputation as hailing from the party's center).  

"We have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years. At the Democrat convention, you barely heard a word about their agenda," Trump will say, according to those excerpts. "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."

Aides said Trump will also make mention of protests taking part in many American cities.

Still, the excerpts from the campaign show the president will also seek to strike positive notes: "This towering American spirit has prevailed over every challenge, and lifted us to the summit of human endeavor," he is expected to say. 

– John Fritze

A look back at Trump's 2016 speech

In defending his administration's record, President Donald Trump is expected to strike a more optimistic tone in his nomination acceptance speech Thursday than he did in a similar address four years ago.

Of course, it'll be easy to be more optimistic than Trump was in 2016.

When he accepted his first presidential nomination in July of 2016, Trump painted a dark and foreboding picture of the United States, a land beset by crime and corruption that required an outsider to address systemic challenges in Washington. 

"Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it," Trump famously said that night in Cleveland.

Aides to Democratic challenger Joe Biden said that, four years after that first nomination speech, Trump has made things worse by dividing Americans along racial lines, undermining national security by alienating global allies, and mismanaging the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic problems it spawned.

After Vice President Mike Pence referenced recent police shootings and protests during his remarks on Wednesday, Biden campaign senior adviser Symone Sanders noted that: “With all due respect, Mr. Vice President, that violence is happening right now in Donald Trump’s America."

"You own this," she said. "Donald Trump has spent his entire time actively fueling hate and division.”

Looking back on Trump's nomination speech in 2016, it's striking to see issues that still percolate this election year.

In 2016, Trump said: "Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life."

And this: "There can be no prosperity without law and order."

Four years ago, Trump claimed to represent "the forgotten men and women of our country, people who work hard but no longer have a voice ... I am your voice."

Trump also talked that night about allegedly bad trade deals and lost jobs, attacked the Iran nuclear deal, and vowed to wage an aggressive war on terrorism.

He attacked then-President Barack Obama and 2016 election opponent Hillary Clinton with kind of ferocity he is expected to reserve tonight for Joe Biden, according to excerpts of the speech provided by the Trump campaign.

Those excerpts also included more positive lines like, "this towering American spirit has prevailed over every challenge, and lifted us to the summit of human endeavor.”

Trump's speech, live from the White House, is scheduled to start at 10:28 p.m. ET.

– David Jackson

McConnell: 'Election is incredibly consequential'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will tell the Republican National Convention on Thursday that he looks out for middle America, in contrast to Democratic congressional leaders from New York and California.

“This election is incredibly consequential for middle America,” McConnell said from Kentucky in prepared remarks obtained exclusively by USA TODAY. “Today’s Democrat party doesn’t want to improve life for middle America.”

Democratic leaders have blasted McConnell for bottling up 380 House bills – 80% of which have bipartisan support – without votes in the Republican-controlled Senate. “McConnell and the Republicans have refused over and over again to take action to protect Americans’ healthcare, to address the coronavirus,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Wednesday.

McConnell described himself as the “grim reaper” in April 2019 blocking progressive legislation while shepherding confirmation of judicial and other nominees.

“I am immensely proud of the work the Republican Senate has done,” McConnell said. “We are the firewall against (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi’s agenda.”

McConnell, who will be on the ballot with President Donald Trump on Nov. 3, said the Senate won’t be bullied by the liberal media. Instead, Republicans will work on behalf of millions of Americans whose stories aren’t told in newspapers, he said.

“They prefer that all of us in flyover country keep quiet and let them decide how we should live our lives,” McConnell said. “They want to tell you when you can go to work. When your kids can go to school. They want to tax your job out of existence, and then send you a government check for unemployment.”

– Bart Jansen

Protesters look to drown out Trump’s RNC speech

A group of activists hopes to drown out President Donald Trump’s speech as he accepts the Republican Party nomination at the White House.

Trump is set to speak Thursday night from the South Lawn. As he does, a local band will be blaring Go-Go music, a distinctive D.C. variant on funk.

The popular local band TOB will perform one block from the White House, with the goal of disrupting Trump’s speech.

A longtime D.C. trademark, Go-Go music emerged last year as a battle anthem for activists fighting fast-moving gentrification in the nation’s capital. The music has been a regular presence in this summer’s protests against racial injustice, and rolling Go-Go trucks with live bands have appeared frequently at the epicenter of the protests, which was renamed by the city as Black Lives Matter Plaza.

– Associated Press

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