White House coronavirus task force not consulted about convention plans on South Lawn
From CNN's Jim Acosta
The White House coronavirus task force was not consulted about convention plans for President Trump's speech tonight on the White House South Lawn, a senior administration official said.
The official said it made more sense for the campaign and the task force to "stay out of each other's way."
Health experts on the task force, like the nation's leading coronavirus expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, have been advising Americans to avoid large crowds during the pandemic.
At a hearing in July, Fauci warned large crowds where people are not wearing masks are especially risky.
“Any crowd, whether it’s a protest, any crowd when you have people close together without masks is a risk," Fauci said.
Trump's speech is expected to draw between 1,000 to 1,500 people, according to outgoing counselor Kellyanne Conway.
8:07 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020
Trump says it's a "very appropriate" time for a political celebration
From CNN's Nikki Carvajal
Despite a major hurricane and large protests on racial inequality from Kenosha, Wisconsin, to professional sports leagues, President Donald Trump said he thinks it’s “very appropriate” to have a political celebration Thursday night as he accepts the Republican presidential nomination. He then pivoted to calling on governors to open their schools and to “let them play football.”
“I think it’s very appropriate,” Trump said, answering a question on timing of the speech from a briefing at FEMA headquarters. “The country is doing very well economically. We’re on a V, it could even be a super V,” he claimed.
Trump said the US “set a record last quarter on jobs last quarter,” a slightly misleading statistic when the unemployment rate continues to hover near 10%. He also claimed that he thinks “we’re going to have a GDP that’s going to be mind-boggling. Now that will be announced interestingly just before the election, so that will be very interesting.”
“That’s despite the fact that great places like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan are shut down unnecessarily at this point. It’s crazy what they’re doing. But they’re doing it I think for political reasons,” Trump claimed, not for the first time. “I think they’re making a tremendous mistake.”
“Let them open,” the President continued. “Let them open safely and carefully. Open up their schools. Let them play football. It’s got to open up.”
The President is set to formally accept the nomination from the White House tonight, an unprecedented move in modern politics, in front of a crowd of more than a thousand people.
His speech will be followed by fireworks near the Washington Monument.
8:01 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020
Some GOP senators opt not to attend Trump's acceptance speech
From CNN's Ryan Nobles and Sarah Westwood
A number of Republican senators are opting not to attend President Trump’s acceptance speech at the White House, despite most receiving invitations to join the audience on the South Lawn.
The Senate is not in session, and many lawmakers have returned to their home states for the rest of August recess. However, while some of the President’s strong supporters in the upper chamber are making the trip to Washington to attend the final night of the GOP convention, others are citing excuses from a “prior commitment” to preferring to watch from home.
Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, Thom Tillis, Roy Blunt, Kevin Cramer and Lindsey Graham are among the lawmakers expected to attend the event on Thursday evening. Cramer plans to bring his wife, an aide said.
CNN reached out to the offices all of 53 sitting Republican senators to see if they planned to attend the President’s acceptance speech.
Many offices did not respond to our inquiry, but nearly a dozen Republican Senate offices confirmed to CNN that their members would not be joining Trump’s supporters on the White House South Lawn.
Sen. Tim Scott – who himself spoke at the convention on Monday – had a “prior commitment” that will prevent his attendance. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz will be dealing with the fallout from the advance of Hurricane Laura in Texas. Sen. James Lankford will plan to watch from his home state of Oklahoma. And others pointed to reasons from personal health to family issues as to why they would not attend.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will also not be in attendance, but is taping a message to be played during the convention.
Sen. Mitt Romney was not invited.
Guidance provided to guests ahead of the speech suggests people will not be tested for Covid-19, nor will they be forced to wear masks in all common areas. A number of older senators had telegraphed in advance that they were unlikely to attend an in-person component of the convention due to health concerns.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a CNN request for a list of Senate attendees.
7:57 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020
Harris slams Trump's leadership ahead of tonight's speech: "He thinks it's all about him"
From CNN's Daniella Diaz
In her prebuttal to President Donald Trump’s convention speech set to take place this evening, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris addressed what is happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, as well as slammed the President's response to Covid-19.
Harris, speaking at George Washington University, called the video showing the shooting of Blake "sickening to watch."
"We also see pain, hurt and destruction in the aftermath of yet another black man shot by police. Jacob Blake shot seven times in the back in broad daylight in front of his three young sons," she said. "As Vice President Biden put it, the shots fired at Mr. Blake pierced the soul of our nation. It's sickening to watch. It's all too familiar. And it must end. Thankfully he is alive today, but he is fighting for his life and he shouldn't have to be. My heart goes out to the Blake family as they endure an ordeal that is tragically common in our country."
Harris said a Biden administration would "pass meaningful police reform and broader criminal justice reform and acknowledge, yes, acknowledge, and address systemic racism."
On Trump, she said: "Donald Trump doesn't understand the presidency. He thinks it's all about him. Well, it's not. It's about you. It's about all of us, the people. As a lawyer and advocate, when I would rise to speak in a courtroom, I'd say the following words, Kamala Harris, for the people. And that is why I stand today to speak for the people because we know the truth. Donald Trump has failed at the most basic and important job of a president of the United States. He failed to protect the American people. Plain and simple. Trump showed that we in the legal profession would call a reckless disregard for the well being of the American people.”
On Covid-19, Harris said President Trump's "incompetence" became "deadly."
"Donald Trump's incompetence is nothing new. That has always been on full display," she said. "But in January of this year, it became deadly. That's when the threat of a virus that would endanger the world first emerged. Trump dismissed the threat but Joe Biden sounded the alarm. It would be the beginning of a pattern that persists to this day.”
She also said a Biden administration would mandate wearing face masks.
Harris concluded her speech emphasizing the contrast between Trump and Biden.
"But we have a chance to right these wrongs and put America on a better path forward. One where the leaders we elect listen to the experts and follow the best medical guidance to keep us and our families healthy and safe. One where we take meaningful action against systems and traditions of oppression. One where we stop fanning the flames of hate and division, and treat one another with the respect and the dignity that each one of us deserves. As Joe Biden said in his acceptance speech, we have a choice between the light and the dark. I believe America will choose the light. Thank you," she said.
7:53 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020
White House press secretary previews Trump's speech
From CNN's Betsy Klein
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany offered a broad preview of President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech remarks later this evening.
“This President is going to spend a lot of time talking about what he’s done over the last four years, but he’s really going to draw a contrast between him and the Democrat party and he’s going to frame this election as a choice: which America do you want to be a part of? One where there’s law and order in the streets or anarchy? One where there’s a great economic comeback, an American recovery, or one where you have onerous regulation and overtaxation and struggling economy,” she said during an appearance on Fox Business, criticizing the Obama administration.
Most of the appearance addressed her speech at last night’s convention, including her “difficult” decision to get a double mastectomy and the “turmoil” of the situation.
She said she called Trump last Saturday “and said I wanted to share this.”
“He was very supportive,” she said, and called her back Wednesday morning to reiterate that support.
7:51 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020
Joe Biden slams Pence's speech: "The problem we have right now is we’re in Donald Trump’s America”
From CNN’s Sarah Mucha
Joe Biden responded to Vice President Mike Pence’s comments from Wednesday night’s Republican National Convention address – and the standard GOP talking point – that “you won��t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” with a laugh Thursday, replying, “The problem we have right now is we’re in Donald Trump’s America.”
"Joe Biden's America, look, while running the video of Donald Trump's America," the Democratic presidential nominee said to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "The problem we have right now is we're in Donald Trump's America."
Seizing on White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's comments this morning on Fox, Biden accused the President of viewing violence as a "political benefit."
"You know, he's rooting for more riots, not less," Biden said before going on to once again condemn the violence.
“By the way, I condemn violence in any form, whether it’s looting or whatever it is," he said.
"The thing that bothers me the most is the idea of just pouring gasoline on the racial flames that are burning now. That does not justify any of the looting, any of the burning, any of the damage being done by protesters. But the people have a right to be angry," Biden said.
The former vice president said he would consider visiting Wisconsin if it were safe to do so, but said he did not want to add to the problem. Biden added, "If I were president, I would be going.”
Asked to respond to accusations that Biden is "Catholic in name only," Biden replied, "I'm not going to proselytize. I’m a practicing Catholic, I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life.”
Biden accused the President of “using the White House as a prop."
“Look what’s going on in terms of the Hatch Act,” he said, referencing the law that limits the political action of federal employees while on duty. He added: "I know people don't know the Hatch Act is."
The Democratic nominee once again doubled down that he will in fact be debating Trump.
"As long as the commission continues down the straight and narrow, as they have, I’m gonna debate him. I know for certain, I’m gonna be a fact-checker on the floor while I’m debating him," he said.
7:49 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020
Trump has been silent on Jacob Blake shooting but has vowed to stop violent protests
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
Even as President Donald Trump loudly pledges to restore "law and order" to a Wisconsin city gripped by protests, he has remained silent on what prompted the unrest: another police shooting of a Black man.
Asked about the situation during a storm briefing at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters earlier today, Trump focused on quelling the protests without addressing the shooting that precipitated them.
He wrote off a strike by NBA players, claiming the league had become too political after several teams declined to play Wednesday night in protest of police violence against Black Americans.
And he ended the questioning without answering whether he'd viewed the video of the incident, in which a White police officer is seen firing seven times into 29-year-old Jacob Blake's back. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said later on in the day that the President had watched the video of Blake’s shooting.
The absence of any presidential statement about the shooting that left Blake partially paralyzed underscores the fraught approach to safety and policing Trump is adopting as he runs for reelection: while he has railed against Democratic authorities for allowing violence in their cities, he has largely brushed off the events and circumstances that led to the unrest.
White House officials said Trump is wary of commenting on incidents before the details are fully known, though Blake was shot on Sunday and police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, have offered some details leading up to the incident.
On Monday morning he was briefed on the incident by Attorney General William Barr, though details about what happened were still vague at the time, according to a senior administration official.
He was briefed additional times later on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday the Justice Department announced a federal civil rights investigation into Blake's shooting.
But Trump still hasn't addressed the incident itself, choosing to focus instead on the ensuing protests and the state's Democratic governor.
"We will put out the fire. We will put out the flame," Trump said during his visit to FEMA, where he received a briefing on Hurricane Laura. "We will stop the violence very quickly."
Earlier this week, Trump tweeted he would "NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets."
"TODAY, I will be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!" he wrote.
Later, the White House said in a statement the federal government had deployed nearly 1,000 National Guardsmen and 200 federal law enforcement personnel, including FBI and US Marshalls, to Wisconsin.
The White House has reached out to the family of Jacob Blake but has not directly had contact with them, Meadows said Thursday.
Democrats rail against Pence's comments that people won't be safe in Joe Biden's America
From CNN’s Sarah Mucha
Democrats held their final counter-RNC press briefing Thursday afternoon, mostly taking the time to criticize Vice President Mike Pence for his comments, as well as the broader GOP talking point, that people will be unsafe Joe Biden's America, pointing to the fact that the current unrest is happening while Donald Trump is President.
"The main rationale that we were even given for their re-election was the specter of violence and division. With all due respect, Mr. Vice President, that violence is happening right now, in Donald Trump's America. That division is happening right now on your watch. You own this. And Donald Trump has spent his entire time actively fueling hate and division," Biden campaign senior adviser Symone Sanders said.
"Poll after poll shows that Joe Biden is who voters trust when it comes to keeping them safe. Joe Biden is who voters trust to address crime. Joe Biden is who voters trust on criminal justice reform and that makes a hell of a lot of sense. I mean, not only is the unrest taking place with Trump in office, but his botching of the pandemic response has cost again, over 180,000 of our fellow Americans their very lives," she said.
Sanders responded to Kellyanne Conway, who said this morning on Fox, "The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who's best on public safety, and law and order," by calling her comments "nihilistic and disgusting."
"Welcoming the suffering is nihilistic and disgusting and Donald Trump is in charge right now," said Sanders.
Sanders said Wednesday evening's convention "vacillated between an imaginary list of Donald Trump's accomplishments and an alternate reality meant to erase the disease plaguing our nation and the last four years of division and rhetoric that has driven the country further apart."
Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg took on the Republicans' attempts to portray Biden as a radical leader.
"I think one of the reasons why the convention's message is falling flat with the American people is that no one looks at Joe Biden and thinks that they're looking at a radical," said the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor. "What we have in the Biden-Harris ticket is the kind of leadership that America is crying out for, the compassion that we need, the basic competence that we need, and a readiness to deal with the issues we're actually facing on the ground."
7:39 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020
No mention of coronavirus testing in guidance sent to guests ahead of Trump's speech
From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Jim Acosta and Nikki Carvajal
There is no mention of required coronavirus testing in the guidance that was sent earlier today to guests who are invited to President Donald Trump's speech on the South Lawn tonight.
Instead, the guidance advises guests to stay home if they are not feeling well or have experienced Covid-19 symptoms, recently tested positive or have been in close contact with someone who has.
According to the guidance obtained by CNN, "face coverings are required upon arrival and in security screening areas. Use is encouraged in high traffic areas including restrooms and hospitality spaces."
"Practice social distancing whenever possible," it adds.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows would not get into the details of Trump's speech tonight to the RNC, and on Covid-19 precautions, he would only say that people in close proximity to the President would be tested at the event.
Testing for outdoor events at the Republican National Convention has been scattershot at best. Guests who were seated around the President Tuesday night were tested, but most who attended weren't.
Reporters covering Vice President Pence's speech Wednesday night were tested, but several guests who were seated much closer to the stage were not. And now it appears no testing will be required for the President's speech Thursday night.