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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8:27 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.

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 

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris speaks in Washington on Thursday.
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris speaks in Washington on Thursday. Carolyn Kaster/AP

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 speaks during a press briefing at the White House on August 13 in Washington.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on August 13 in Washington. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

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.