Republican National Convention 2020: Day 4

By Rebekah Metzler, Melissa Macaya, Jessica Estepa, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 1:21 PM ET, Fri August 28, 2020
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8:29 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020

Living like there's no pandemic

Analysis from CNN's Kevin Liptak

If the speakers at this week’s convention provided a portrait of Trump’s presidency that didn’t always align with reality, the images of mask-less crowds gathered without social distancing helped reinforce it.

Combined with the repeated references to the coronavirus pandemic in the past tense — most notably by Trump’s chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow — the images protect a post-pandemic world, even as deaths mount. More than 3,600 Americans have died since the Republican National Convention started three days ago — more than died during the terror attacks on 9/11.

Unlike most Americans, Trump has access to an extensive testing regime that his aides say renders him the “most tested man in America.” Anyone who comes into close proximity with him receives one; on Thursday, that includes a sizable number of the more than 1,000 invited guests on the South Lawn for his speech.

The same was true, at least in part, for guests at the first lady’s speech in the Rose Garden and Vice President Mike Pence’s address at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. While neither the campaign nor the White House would provide specific details, at least some of the guests at those events were tested. Few wore masks.

The effect has been to provide Trump with the crowds he long desired for his convention. But it has also allowed him to project a reality that simply doesn’t exist for the rest of the country. Many states still ban large gatherings. Rapid testing is not available in many places, and wait times are long. The mask requirements that exist in many states would not permit the types of bare-faced events that Trump has convened.

How effective that is in convincing Americans that Trump has handled the virus well isn’t clear. Even a number of Republican senators are opting not to attend Trump’s acceptance speech at the White House, despite most receiving invitations to join the audience on the South Lawn.

People living through the outbreak are still feeling its effects, be it through closed businesses, struggles with childcare or just the daily inconveniences that have now become routine, like remembering to wear a mask. Images of the President going about his life as normal can’t change that reality.

"Here's what you have to understand about the nature of a pandemic: It's relentless. You can't stop it with a tweet. You can't create a distraction and hope it'll go away. It doesn't go away," Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris said in a prebuttal to Trump’s speech earlier Thursday.

8:25 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020

The final night of the RNC kicks off in moments. Here are key things to watch.

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rudy Giuliani.
President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rudy Giuliani. Getty, AP

The fourth and final night of the Republican National Convention tonight will feature President Donald  Trump's speech officially accepting the Republican nomination for president.

Similar to the first three nights, some speeches are expected to take place at an audience-less auditorium. But before closing out the week's festivities, Trump is expected to deliver a speech to a large crowd from the South Lawn of the White House, breaking with tradition among US presidents not to mix official functions in the White House with overtly political ones. Fireworks are expected after his remarks.

The night will also feature Republican congressional leadership, namely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The convention's theme for Thursday night is "Land of Greatness."

Here are key things to watch tonight:

  • Trump's big speech: The main event of the night is Trump's speech -- his moment to further define his plan for the American future and pitch it to households across the country. Trump will then give his acceptance speech from an elaborate stage on the South Lawn of the White House, after he's introduced by Ivanka Trump. The speech is expected to draw an audience between 1,000 to 1,500 people, according to outgoing counselor Kellyanne Conway, and it's expected to conclude with fireworks. Friday's speech will rank as one of Trump's biggest events amid the coronavirus pandemic since his ill-fated rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, back in June.
  • Wisconsin protests and Hurricane Laura: There were questions on Thursday about whether Trump would postpone his acceptance speech in the wake of Hurricane Laura, a near-category five storm that barreled into the Gulf Coast Wednesday night. Campaign officials say the address will happen as scheduled. Another issue looming over the convention has been the ongoing demonstrations against police brutality across the country. Throughout most of the convention speakers' remarks, Republicans repeatedly blamed Democrats for not running their cities well enough to quell violence.
  • Alice Marie Johnson: In 2018, Trump commuted the prison sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a first-time nonviolent drug offender, a week after Kim Kardashian West pleaded her case during an Oval Office meeting. Johnson, who had already served 21 years of a life sentence, was convicted on charges of conspiracy to possess cocaine and attempted possession of cocaine. Now Johnson is a senior fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Right on Crime initiative. Johnson is likely to testify to the President's criminal justice reform efforts, which Trump was initially hesitant to move forward with.

Read more about the night's events here.

8:27 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020

People wearing few masks and chairs close together in South Lawn ahead of Trump speech 

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Judging from the view on the South Lawn tonight, you wouldn’t know a pandemic has swept across the nation and killed 180,000 Americans. 

The White House and campaign are expecting anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 guests tonight on the South Lawn and the chairs are positioned within less than a foot of one another.

A White House official says there are 1,500 chairs and they expect the rest of the crowd (roughly 500) to be standing. 

The guests received guidance today that was obtained by CNN and did not include required coronavirus testing. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows just told reporters “a number of people will be tested."

The guidance also said masks would be necessary to enter and in high traffic areas, but few were seen wearing masks as they milled about beforehand. 

President Trump’s allies, advisers and old friends are in the crowd tonight. Dozens of lawmakers are expected to attend as well, even though Congress is in recess.

The Republican convention worked with a company that said they have protocols in place that are in compliance with guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DC Department of Public Health. These officials have been on site, the campaign says, though they declined to say which guidelines they were given. 

Watch the scene:

 

8:18 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020

Trump will hit law and order hard in his speech tonight

From CNN's Jim Acosta

A senior Trump campaign adviser said President Trump will hit his law and order theme hard tonight.

The adviser explained “this is how we win suburban moms back,” an acknowledgment of Trump’s shaky standing with women voters.

Top adviser Stephen Miller is leading the writing team in drafting tonight’s speech.

As for the situation in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Trump is likely to address the unrest in the streets of US cities. But aides are being tight lipped about whether Trump will mention the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN he reached out to representatives for Blake’s family to offer Trump’s sympathies. Meadows said Trump has seen the video of Blake being shot by police, something Trump would not talk about earlier today when asked.

8:18 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020

DC based doctor: Trump hosting 1,000 people at White House for RNC is "maddening"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at The George Washington University Hospital, says it's "maddening" that President Trump and the Republican National Committee is hosting between 1,000 to 1,500 people at the White House tonight for their convention.

Reiner told CNN's Erin Burnett that the President is breaking DC coronavirus gathering restrictions which states that mass gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited.

"I'm sitting, right now, in a hospital six blocks from the White House. A hospital that treated hundreds of [Covid-19] patients over the last six months. And when I look at a gathering down the street, purely for political purposes, really purely to create a backdrop for the President, it's really maddening," Reiner said.

This latest criticism comes after Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris called out Trump and the GOP for not acknowledging the reality of the pandemic during their convention earlier today.

8:20 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020

Meadows reached out to representatives of Blake family and says Trump has seen video of shooting

From CNN's Jim Acosta and Nikki Carvajal 

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to the press in Statuary Hall at the Capitol on August 22 in Washington.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to the press in Statuary Hall at the Capitol on August 22 in Washington. Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

The White House has reached out to the family of Jacob Blake but has not directly had contact with them, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Thursday. He also confirmed that the President has watched the video of Blake’s shooting. 

Meadows told CNN’s Jim Acosta that he reached out to representatives of the Blake family, and specifically his mother, “and conveyed a message that I wanted to make sure that not only as a mother of someone who has undergone a real tragic event and still the prognosis is yet to be fully determined, that for the President and myself we certainly appreciate her call for peace and we join her in that.” 

Meadows said he reached out to express, “not only my desire but the President’s desire to share support for the family.” 

“I’m fully confident that that message has been conveyed,” he added. 

Meadows said that Trump told his attorney general “I want to make sure it’s fully investigated I want to get to the bottom of what happened.” 

He also confirmed the President has seen the video of the shooting, which Trump ignored questions about earlier on Thursday. 

Meadows would not get into the details of tonight’s speech to the Republican National Convention, and on Covid-19 precautions, he would only say that people in close proximity to the President would be tested at the event. 

8:12 p.m. ET, August 27, 2020

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 

President Donald Trump speaks on stage during the first day of the Republican National Committee convention on Monday, August 24 in Charlotte.
President Donald Trump speaks on stage during the first day of the Republican National Committee convention on Monday, August 24 in Charlotte. Evan Vucci/AP

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

Senator Ted Cruz arrives for the Senate Republican luncheon at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on August 4.
Senator Ted Cruz arrives for the Senate Republican luncheon at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on August 4. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

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.