Both sides resist Trump’s idea to deliver acceptance speech from White House

'Probably shouldn't do it,' says Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson
President Trump Holds White House News Conference
President Donald Trump leaves a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Tuesday. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WKBT) — President Donald Trump’s suggestion that he might deliver his nomination acceptance speech from the White House is stirring debate the likes of which have never been seen before — to use one of Trump’s favorite borrowed phrases.
Trump floated the idea during a “Fox & Friends” phone interview Wednesday after the novel coronavirus derailed previous Republican National Convention venues of Charlotte, N.C., and Tampa, Fla.
Using the Executive Mansion, the Rose Garden or even the Oval Office as the backdrop for his speech as the culmination of the Aug. 24-27 convention would be an unprecedented use of public property for partisan political purposes.
Critics allege it would violate ethics laws, such as the Hatch Act, which limits federal workers’ political activity. However, the president is exempt from the Hatch Act, and few government staffers have been penalized.
Critics have risen on both sides of the aisle.
• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decried the idea, saying it would “degrade the White House.” The California Democrat predicted that using the White House for such a partisan event “won’t happen” for legal and ethical reasons.
• Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson told reporters such use of the White House is “probably not allowed.”
The president “probably shouldn’t do it,” said Johnson, the Badger State’s senior U.S. senator and Trump loyalist.
• Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, answered reporters’ questions about the idea with a question: “Is that even legal? I assume that’s not something that you could do. I think anything to do on federal property would seem to be problematic.”
• Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court, echoed that concern, saying, “I would have to have somebody show me where it says he could do that.”
Trump dismissed such concerns, declaring flatly at a news conference, “It is legal,” and adding, “There is no Hatch Act because it doesn’t pertain to the president.”
During the “Fox & Friends” interview, said the White House provides the simplest solution.
“It’s easy, and I think it’s a beautiful setting,” he said. “And we are thinking about that. It’s certainly one of the alternatives. It’s the easiest alternative. I think it’s a beautiful alternative.”
Trump also cited the expense of traveling to Charlotte, N.C., with a full Secret Service detail.
“If I use the White House, we save tremendous amounts of money for the government in terms of security, traveling. … I think it would be a very convenient location,” Trump said.
Reporters noted wryly that this was the first time Trump has ever expressed concern about his travel costs.
Although the president is exempt from the Hatch Act, ethics experts said presidential staffers working on the event could be in jeopardy.
“The rule prohibiting political activity on government property still applies, regardless of the Hatch Act’s exception for the president,” said Kedric Payne, ethics director at the Campaign Legal Center. “Any federal employee who helps facilitate the acceptance speech risks violating the Hatch Act.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says he plans to accept his party’s nomination in a speech delivered in his home state of Delaware instead going to the planned Democratic convention in Milwaukee.
The Office of Special Counsel, an independent government watchdog, has cited the president’s top advisers on multiple occasions for violating the Hatch Act. In 2018, the watchdog alleged that six White House officials violated the law when they tweeted and retweeted the president’s 2016 campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” from their official Twitter accounts.
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said the White House is not a political convention hall.
“The White House is the people’s house — not the headquarters of the Republican Party or the office of the re-election campaign of Donald Trump,” Weissman said, although he acknowledged that presidents and their top aides have long conducted political and partisan activities from the White House.
“The idea of denigrating the White House by turning it into a partisan backdrop for a party nomination acceptance speech should be anathema to all Americans,” Weissman said.

The Associated Press and other wire services contributed to this report.