Is Trump abusing his power by using the White House for the RNC?


Fact Box

  • The first Republican National Convention was held in Philadelphia's Musical Fund Hall in June of 1856.  
  • Before the RNC began, government ethics experts warned that hosting campaign events from the White House could violate federal ethics law.
  • The Hatch Act of 1939 limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some local government employees who work with federally funded programs. ​
  • Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, dismissed the idea that Trump violated federal law at the RNC, stating that “critics have overstretched the bounds of the Hatch Act.”

Jennifer (Yes)

The naturalization ceremony broadcast at the RNC from the White House was in clear violation of the 1939 Hatch Act--amended in 1993--which prohibits federal employees from performing most political work within federal buildings.

And why the White House? Most citizenship naturalization ceremonies are held either at federal courthouses or community facilities. For such a ceremony to take place at the White House in the context of a political convention is unprecedented and illegal, yet White House insiders responded predictably. Said White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, “Nobody outside the Beltway really cares.”

While the president and vice-president are considered exempt from Hatch provisions, other federal employees implicated in the RNC are not. This includes Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who spoke at the convention’s second night. Not only is Pompeo’s appearance a potential Hatch violation, but it also defied State Department policy.

This is not the Trump administration’s first violation of the Act. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) revealed that the Office of the Special Counsel uncovered instances of at least 13 administration officials violating Hatch. Currently, there are one-dozen cases open.

A House panel will convene to investigate the Pompeo speech, which was broadcast to the RNC from Jerusalem, raising objections about entangling U.S. foreign policy with political affairs. 

Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in a letter to the State Department about the Pompeo speech that it “ highly unusual and likely appears that it may also be illegal.”

Bill (No)

For several reasons, Trump is not abusing his power by utilizing the White House at the RNC. 

The Hatch Act, which was passed by Congress in 1939 and which governs federal employees' political activities, explicitly excludes the president and vice president. This means that Trump has carte blanche to use the White House (i.e., his residence) for any political purpose he deems necessary. And Trump has a legitimate political purpose for participating in his party's convention and nominating process.

The plans for 2020's political conventions had to be scrapped over concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Trump's leveraging of the White House as a location is a reasonable and cost-effective solution, given the unique circumstances dictated by the current CDC-recommended health policies of social distancing, which would prevent a typically packed arena from hosting the event. 

The RNC activities that have taken place at the White House include Melania Trump's speech aimed at unifying the country. After recent painful episodes involving the pandemic, riots, violence, and the destruction that broke out across the country in the wake of racial incidents in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Portland, and elsewhere, Trump's speech was much needed.

A presidential abuse of power must involve the 'commission of an unlawful act, done in an official capacity, which affects the performance of official duties.' It's clear from the above examples that no unlawful acts have been committed by Trump's use of the White House to host the RNC; therefore, it does not qualify as an abuse of his presidential power.

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