WASHINGTON – Plenty of presidents have walked right up to the line separating official business from politics — or even stepped over it. President Donald Trump has blown past it with a bulldozer, and his planned Republican convention speech from the White House lawn this week might be the latest and most blatant example yet.
Down in the polls and facing the headwinds of a coronavirus-battered economy, Trump made the case that the White House is the easiest location for the Secret Service and law enforcement to secure for his acceptance speech after Republicans were forced to scale back their convention because of the pandemic.
Left unsaid was that the Executive Mansion offers Trump a grand setting as he attempts to make his case that voters should stick with him in the midst of a health catastrophe that has touched nearly every aspect of American life.
“What makes this particularly galling is that the president owns a hotel four blocks away from the White House that he’s shown no qualms about profiting from over the course of his presidency,” said Donald Sherman, deputy director of the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Now he feels compelled to use the White House grounds to deliver this political speech?”
That's not the only mixing of government and politics this week: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is among the Trump Cabinet officials who will address the convention, in his case a recorded address from Jerusalem while on a taxpayer-funded trip to the region. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue talked up Trump's reelection during an “official” visit Monday to a North Carolina farm with the president.
And Trump himself appeared Tuesday night in two videos produced in part by the White House as he blended official acts and campaigning.
A video featuring Trump signing a pardon for Jon Ponder, an ex-convict who now runs an acclaimed prisoner reentry program, aired minutes into Tuesday night's program. Later, ruffles and flourishes rang out ahead of “Hail to the Chief” as military aides opened the doors to the White House Cross Hall for Trump to preside over a naturalization ceremony for new Americans. Both events were taped in recent days as Trump and his re-election campaign looked to find ways to present a softer image to the American people.
Under a federal law known as the Hatch Act, civilian employees in the executive branch cannot use their titles when doing political work. They are also prohibited from taking part in any partisan activity while on the clock. The president and the vice president are exempt from the rules.