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RNC Live Updates: The House Opens an Investigation into Pompeo’s Convention Speech from Israel

President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House in April.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Melania Trump will speak from the Rose Garden of the White House tonight. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will endorse the president from a rooftop in Jerusalem. And President Trump appeared from the White House twice on the opening night of the Republican National Convention on Monday and plans to deliver his acceptance speech from the South Lawn.

Their appearances amount to a radical break from tradition even for an administration that has repeatedly shattered longstanding norms. Never in recent times has a president used the majesty of the White House to stage a nominating convention, nor has a sitting secretary of state participated in such a partisan event, much less from overseas where he is ostensibly on a diplomatic mission.

According to State Department guidance from December 2019, department employees are not allowed to “speak for or against a partisan candidate, political party or partisan political group at a convention, rally or similar gathering sponsored by such entities.”

On Tuesday, a House foreign affairs subcommittee opened an investigation into Mr. Pompeo’s political activities during the diplomatic trip to Israel.

The chairman of the subcommittee, Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, wrote in a letter to Stephen E. Biegun, the deputy secretary of state, that Mr. Pompeo’s speech could violate the Hatch Act, a Depression-era law that bars federal employees from engaging in political activities while they are on the job.

“It is highly unusual, and likely unprecedented, for a sitting Secretary of State to speak at a partisan convention for either of the political parties,” Mr. Castro wrote in the letter. “It appears that it may also be illegal.”

Mr. Castro asked the State Department to provide documents on the legal advice it received on the propriety of Mr. Pompeo’s speech, as well as an accounting of expenses from the trip.

A State Department official had previously said that Mr. Pompeo would “address the convention in his personal capacity” and added: “No State Department resources will be used. Staff are not involved in preparing the remarks or in the arrangements for Secretary Pompeo’s appearance. The State Department will not bear any costs in conjunction with this appearance.”

But the official guidelines, and a cable Mr. Pompeo himself recently sent to employees, state clearly that such partisan activities are prohibited even on employees’ personal time. In his letter, Mr. Castro said that based on guidance from the State Department and the Hatch Act, Mr. Pompeo was barred from participating in the convention.

“It appears incontrovertible that the Secretary’s speech to the R.N.C. violates this prohibition,” Mr. Castro wrote.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday in Jerusalem. He is scheduled to address the Republican convention from Israel on Tuesday.Credit…Pool photo by Debbie Hill

Mike Pompeo is betting that he has more to gain, politically, than he will lose by breaking with diplomatic tradition on Tuesday night to become the first sitting secretary of state in at least 75 years to address a national party convention.

The setting of the speech, with the lights of the Old City of Jerusalem expected to be visible over his shoulder, provides Mr. Pompeo with an opportunity to praise one of President Trump’s few foreign policy achievements that has received wide and bipartisan support: the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

It also gives him a national platform with Mr. Trump’s core supporters — a political base that Mr. Pompeo is courting as he weighs a future presidential campaign.

“If he has any interest in running for president in the future, this is a way of inserting himself into presidential politics, but at the cost of breaking an important tradition in American history,” said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian.

Mr. Pompeo has been under criticism since it became clear that he would be giving the speech while on an official diplomatic trip to the Middle East and North Africa. For nearly a year, Democrats in Congress have accused Mr. Pompeo of violating the federal Hatch Act by using taxpayer-funded government aircraft and hosting receptions at the State Department to further his political ambitions.

Stuart Stevens, a Republican political consultant and former top strategist to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012, said party loyalists “won’t care” whether Mr. Pompeo violated bans on engaging in partisan activities while traveling overseas on official business.

The bigger problem for Mr. Pompeo, he said, is the prospect of a Republican Party so fractured after November that those who follow Mr. Trump will be unable to draw the widespread support needed to win the 2024 presidential election.

On Tuesday morning, as he was flying across the Middle East, Mr. Pompeo offered a preview of his address. “President Trump has ensured the safety of America — and SECURED our many FREEDOMS, which is the cornerstone of this great nation,” Mr. Pompeo wrote from his personal Twitter account.

Politically, First Lady Melania Trump’s high-profile role in the convention could mean a boost for President Trump. Campaign aides have been eager for more of her time.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

“Her words.”

That’s the message that aides to the first lady, Melania Trump, have underscored ahead of her headlining speech Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention. Mrs. Trump’s address, which will be delivered live from the newly renovated Rose Garden, will be “authentic,” written without the hidden hand of professional speechwriters. “Every word” of the address, Mrs. Trump’s chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham said, “is from her.”

It’s a necessary rebuttal to Mrs. Trump’s disastrous appearance at the R.N.C. four years ago in Cleveland, where she had discarded a speech prepared for her by two prominent conservative speechwriters and instead ended up borrowing word-for-word phrases and themes from Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention eight years earlier.

But for a first lady who for the past four years has chosen to be seen more than heard, sometimes letting her clothes (a jacket, most infamously) do the talking, a major speech in which she shares her own thoughts about her husband’s presidency is more than just an opportunity for a do-over.

“We don’t hear from her often, so that means every time we do hear her speak, people are intently listening to what she has to say,” said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to the former first lady, Laura Bush.

Mrs. Trump deserves credit, Mrs. McBride noted, for over the years subtly “getting her point across without poking the president in the eye.” While her husband was still promoting an anti-mask message from the White House, for instance, Mrs. Trump posted a portrait of herself wearing a face mask on Twitter, and encouraged Americans to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

President Trump with Jon Ponder, center, and Richard Beasley, left, at the White House in 2018.Credit…Susan Walsh/Associated Press

The second night of the Republican National Convention will include a pardon from President Trump for a man who robbed a bank in Nevada, according to two people briefed on the plan.

The man, Jon Ponder, who received a separate state pardon this year, was pardoned by Mr. Trump for his crimes, and the pardon will be a part of the formal convention program on Tuesday night, during which the theme is “Land of Opportunity,” the two people said.

Mr. Ponder, who has since founded a nonprofit to help former inmates, was arrested for the bank robbery in 2004 by Richard Beasley, now a retired F.B.I. agent. Mr. Beasley is expected to speak at the convention as well. Mr. Trump hosted both men at the White House in 2018, for the National Day of Prayer.

Officials released a video of Mr. Trump pardoning Mr. Ponder that is to be aired at the convention.

Mr. Ponder has three convictions; the other two are state charges related to domestic battery crimes in the 1990s and early 2000s. He was granted clemency for the domestic violence incidents this year.

Major television networks lodged a protest with Republican officials on Tuesday after the Trump campaign agreed to provide Fox News with additional access to major speeches at this week’s Republican National Convention.

Representatives from rival networks — including ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN — cried foul in a conference call with Trump officials on Tuesday that grew heated at times, according to four people briefed on the discussion who were not authorized to speak about it publicly.

The dispute emerged after the Fox News host Sean Hannity — a major ally of President Trump — revealed that he had received exclusive entry to key convention sites.

“We’ll be broadcasting live from the Rose Garden in the lead-up for Melania Trump’s speech,” Mr. Hannity told viewers on Monday. “Wednesday, we’ll be at Fort McHenry where Vice President Pence will be, and on Thursday, we will be live on the South Lawn where President Trump will give his speech.”

The other networks said it was unfair of the Trump campaign to grant Mr. Hannity and Fox News the additional access, which was expected to include a dedicated press riser and camera, and requested parity.

Following the call, Trump campaign officials agreed to allow reporters from other networks into the Rose Garden for Mrs. Trump’s address, two of the people said, but the extent of that access was still being worked out.

Because of safety restrictions relating to the coronavirus, the major TV broadcasters are reliant this week on a single, so-called pool feed of live video and audio from the Republicans’ events. (The same format was in place at last week’s Democratic National Convention.)

In a typical year, the major networks would have built multimillion-dollar sets at the convention sites and arranged multiple anchor booths and camera stations throughout the arena floor. And it is not unusual for TV producers to lobby convention officials for unique access to significant events.

But Mr. Hannity’s announcement caught rival networks off guard, given Mr. Hannity’s closeness with Mr. Trump and what other executives deemed overly favorable treatment for his network.

The lead convention anchors for Fox News, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, will host their Tuesday broadcast from the network’s regular setup for both of this year’s political conventions, at the United States Chamber of Commerce building in Washington.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

About 15.8 million people watched the Republicans live on Monday night between 10 and 11 p.m., down from roughly 19 million who tuned in for last Monday’s speeches.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

TV viewership for the first night of the Republican National Convention fell short of the Democrats’ first night last week, according to Nielsen.

About 17 million people watched the Republicans live on Monday night between 10 and 11 p.m., down from the 19.7 million who tuned in for last Monday’s speeches by Senator Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama.

A significant portion of that audience watched on Fox News, which brought in 7.1 million viewers — by far the biggest TV audience of the night. It was the network’s highest-rated opening-night convention audience in 24 years of broadcasting.

Overall, the Republicans’ TV audience was down about 26 percent from its opening night in 2016. Last week, the Democrats saw a 24 percent decline in their opening night viewership.

President Trump has a well-known fixation on television ratings, and he is sure to take note of the overnight figures. Aides to the president, who is a former reality TV star, hired two producers from his show “The Apprentice” to help oversee this year’s convention programming.

The downward ratings trend for both political parties speaks to the growing number of Americans who watch live events online or on streaming platforms, as traditional TV subscriptions continue to fall, and to the difficulty of staging a convention during a pandemic without a large live audience and the chance of the unexpected. The Nielsen numbers do not include those streaming viewers, an audience that remains difficult to credibly measure.

Alex Morse at his campaign office in Holyoke, Mass., in July. He will face Representative Richard Neal in a primary on Sept 1.Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

Taking on one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political action committee endorsed Alex Morse, the small-city mayor who is challenging Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, a veteran lawmaker and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

The endorsement from Courage to Change, announced by Mr. Morse in a statement on Tuesday, is a significant boost to his campaign a week before the primary election. Mr. Morse, a 31-year-old rising progressive star from Holyoke, had considered dropping out of the race earlier this month after accusations of “numerous incidents” of unwanted and inappropriate advances toward students at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst while he was a guest lecturer there.

But Mr. Morse, who acknowledged some consensual relationships with students — though none he taught or supervised — and apologized to anyone he made uncomfortable with his behavior, remained in the race after The Intercept published messages from some of the students who had lodged accusations, revealing that they had discussed how they might damage Mr. Morse’s campaign. One suggested the effort might help his own career prospects with Mr. Neal. Mr. Neal has denied any involvement.

Because Mr. Neal has been in Congress for more than three decades, the race is seen as another test of the strength of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and its ability to oust mainstream incumbents.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, became emblematic of that power in 2018, when she upset Representative Joseph Crowley, a 20-year veteran who was a member of the party leadership.

“When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took on her own entrenched incumbent in 2018, she changed public service for the better, further inspiring me and so many others to fight for our districts and empower those who have long been forgotten,” Mr. Morse said in a statement. “I am honored to have the congresswoman’s Courage to Change in our corner, and it will be the honor of my life to bring the people alongside me to Washington.”

Although Ms. Ocasio-Cortez initially suggested she would support a wide range of progressives taking on entrenched incumbents, she has been careful about which lawmakers she has chosen to focus on. Her political action committee, introduced earlier this year, has endorsed fewer than a dozen candidates, most of them women. One of those candidates, Jamaal Bowman, last month defeated Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson, who is scheduled to speak at the Republican convention Tuesday night, said in June that it would be “smart” for a police officer to be more suspicious of her biracial son than her white children.

“Statistically, I look at our prison population and I see that there is a disproportionately high number of African-American males in our prison population for crimes, particularly for violent crimes,” Ms. Johnson said in a video that she posted after the police killing of George Floyd, and which was reported by Vice News.

“So statistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my Jude walking down the road — as opposed to my white nerdy kids, my white nerdy men walking down the road — because of the statistics that he knows in his head, that these police officers know in their head, they’re going to know that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.”

While she would be upset if an officer behaved violently because of her son’s race, she continued, she would not be upset if the officer were “more careful” around him.

“That doesn’t actually make me angry,” she said in the video. “That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics.”

The disproportionately high number of Black men in prison is not evidence that they commit more crimes; research shows that Black people are arrested and incarcerated far out of proportion to the percentage of crimes they commit.

Ms. Johnson — a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who says she came to oppose abortion after watching an ultrasound-guided abortion of a fetus at 13 weeks’ gestation — also suggested in the video that when her son grew up, he would be “a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking maybe brown man, and my other boys are probably going to look like nerdy white guys.”

Asked for comment on Tuesday, she said: “If you would like to to discuss my talk tonight, I’m happy to do so. However, I’m not going to discuss something that isn’t germane to the event this evening.”

Ms. Johnson runs And Then There Were None, a group that urges employees at abortion clinics to leave them. She opposes abortion in all circumstances and also opposes hormonal contraception.

Hillary Clinton spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week. On Tuesday, she suggested Republicans might move to interfere with absentee voting and other methods of casting ballots.Credit…Elizabeth Frantz for The New York Times

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, has a stark warning for her successor. In a close election where there may be efforts to challenge absentee voting, she suggested, Joseph R. Biden Jr. should not concede.

“Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances, because I think this is going to drag out,” Mrs. Clinton told Jennifer Palmieri, her former communications director and a contributor to Showtime’s “The Circus,” according to a video clip the show shared. “And eventually I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is.”

Mrs. Clinton’s remark came as she and Ms. Palmieri discussed the challenges of a close election, and Mrs. Clinton suggested Republicans might move to interfere with absentee and other kinds of voting.

President Trump has made false attacks on the practice of mail-in voting, and Democrats including Mr. Biden have predicted that the president may seek to disrupt the election.

Mr. Trump has also openly cast doubts on the credibility of the election outcome, though his allies have previously dismissed the idea that he would seek to move Election Day — and the president does not have the authority to make such a move.

“Republicans will be ready to make sure the polls are being run correctly, securely, and transparently as we work to deliver the free and fair election Americans deserve,” said Matthew Morgan, general counsel to Mr. Trump’s campaign. He also said that Mrs. Clinton was “trying to lay the groundwork for Joe Biden to deny the election results when President Trump wins.”

But both Democrats and Republicans have said that Mr. Trump’s repeated and often baseless efforts to question the integrity of the election process appear to amount to an attempt to dismiss a potential outcome he finds unfavorable.

Republicans this week found themselves maintaining that keeping the 2016 platform indicated that their party’s principles and priorities have not shifted during the Trump era.Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

Every four years since 1856, the Republican Party has produced a platform articulating its priorities for the next president.

But like so much else disrupted by President Trump, the Republican National Committee has dispensed with producing a 2020 platform, instead passing a resolution renewing what delegates enacted in 2016, bashing the news media and offering wholehearted support for Mr. Trump.

“The Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda,” reads the resolution, adopted this past weekend in Charlotte, N.C., just before the start of the Republican National Convention.

Most of what is on that agenda also remains a mystery — and is subject to change. Several times this summer, Mr. Trump has been asked by friendly Fox News hosts to articulate his second-term priorities, and he has regularly failed to reveal his plans.

So while the G.O.P. platform of 1856 called for abolishing “those twin relics of barbarism — polygamy and slavery” and building a transcontinental railroad, the party’s official stance in 2020 is that it is for whatever Mr. Trump says.

In June, the Republican National Committee announced it would not write a 2020 platform. It has instead carried over its 2016 version, word for word, including more than three dozen outdated condemnations of the “current” president — which was, when the document was written, Barack Obama.

Though in practice, a party’s platform often has little correlation with how a candidate campaigns or would govern as president, it has for more than a century served as guidance for what political parties believe.

Republicans this week found themselves maintaining that keeping the 2016 platform indicated that their party’s principles and priorities have not shifted during the Trump era.

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transcript

transcript

Highlights From the Republican National Convention: Night 1

On the first night of the convention, Republicans mounted a misleading defense of President Trump’s record.

“Democrats started their convention last week with Eva Longoria, a famous Hollywood actress who played a housewife on TV. Well, I’m actually a real housewife and a mom from Michigan with two wonderful kids in public school who happens to be the only — only the second woman in 164 years to run the Republican Party. Four years ago, President Trump started a movement unlike any other. And over the next four days, we will hear from a few of the millions of hardworking everyday Americans who have benefited from his leadership.” “Florida —” “Georgia —” “Guam —” “Indiana —” “Iowa —” “Kansas —” “Kentucky —” “Tennessee —” “Texas!” “— are excited to nominate —” “— Donald J. Trump —” “— and Vice President Mike Pence —” ”— for four more years.” “Thank you for all you’ve done.” “He’s taken on the swamp, all of the swamp — the Democrats, the press and the Never Trumpers. And when you take on the swamp, the swamp fights back.” “This election is a battle for the soul of America. Your choice is clear: Do you support the cancel culture, the cosmopolitan elites of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden, who blame America first? Do you think America is to blame? Or do you believe in American greatness? Ladies and gentlemen, leaders and fighters for freedom and liberty and the American dream, the best is yet to come!” “I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. They came to America and settled in a small Southern town. My father wore a turban. My mother wore a sari. I was a brown girl in a black and white world. We faced discrimination and hardship, but my parents never gave in to grievance and hate. My mom built a successful business. My dad taught 30 years at a historically black college. And the people of South Carolina chose me as their first minority and first female governor. America is a story that’s a work in progress. Now is the time to build on that progress and make America even freer, fairer and better for everyone. That’s why it’s so tragic to see so much of the Democratic Party turning a blind eye towards riots and rage. The American people know we can do better. America isn’t perfect, but the principles we hold dear are perfect. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that even on our worst day we are blessed to live in America.” “Our founders believed there was nothing more important than protecting our God-given right to think for ourselves. Now the left, they’re trying to cancel all of those founders. They don’t seem to understand this important principle: In order to improve in the future, we must learn from our past, not erase it. So we’re not going to tear down monuments and forget the people who built our great nation. Instead, we will learn from our past so we don’t repeat any mistakes.” “We don’t give in to cancel culture or the radical and factually baseless belief that things are worse today than in the 1860s or the 1960s. We have work to do. But I believe in the goodness of America, the promise that all men and all women are created equal. Our side is working on policy while Joe Biden’s radical Democrats are trying to permanently transform what it means to be an American. Make no mistake: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want a cultural revolution, a fundamentally different America. If we let them, they will turn our country into a socialist utopia. And history has taught us that path only leads to pain and misery, especially for hard-working people hoping to rise. Instead, we must focus on the promise of the American journey.”

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On the first night of the convention, Republicans mounted a misleading defense of President Trump’s record.CreditCredit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

President Trump and his advisers had talked up how they planned to present a sunny, uplifting and optimistic vision of America at this week’s Republican National Convention, but the first day of festivities was filled with brooding warnings of a dark Democratic future.

“Anarchists” would rule. Democrats would “abolish the suburbs.” There would be “rioting, looting and vandalism.” “Socialism” and “radicals.” “Cancel culture” run amok. “Woketopians” on the move. A “horror movie.”

Such divisive language was hardly a surprise at the renomination convention of a president who declared at his inauguration an end to “American carnage” and whose political calling card from the start has been amplifying and maximizing the grievances of his supporters.

But the explicit play to rev up Mr. Trump’s political base — from the list of speakers itself to their provocations from their various speaking perches — was a reminder of the narrow path he is pursuing as he seeks re-election. Suburban voters, especially white women who were essential to his surprise 2016 victory, have shifted decisively in the direction of the Democrats in the intervening years.

There were some efforts to show a softer side of Mr. Trump who “cares” — a buzzword that was used repeatedly — and to justify as purposeful his general bombast.

“Everyone knows he can be tough,” said Ronna McDaniel, the Republican Party chairwoman. “Some people don’t like his style,” noted the retired football player Herschel Walker. “President Trump sometimes raises his voice — and a ruckus,” said Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida.

The explicit division on Monday of America into “Democrat states,” as Donald Trump Jr. put it at one point, and the rest of the country stood in stark contrast to the promises last week by Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee.

Mr. Biden pledged to work as hard for those who vote for him as those who don’t. He said in his speech, “That’s the job of a president: to represent all of us, not just our base or our party.”

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