Pence to make economic pitch, tout coronavirus response at Republican convention

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence takes center stage at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday to make the case that his boss, President Donald Trump, will bring the U.S. economy back to its pre-pandemic heights if given four more years in office.

Pence, who will be renominated as Trump’s running mate after on-and-off speculation that he would be dropped from the ticket, is the highest-ranking official to address the four-day convention aside from the president, who has made appearances each day. Pence’s speech is expected to highlight the administration’s record as well as goals for a second term.

The former Indiana governor and congressman has served as a loyal – critics would say too loyal – lieutenant to Trump, a former New York businessman and reality television star who had no governing experience when he became president in January 2017.

The vice president, a conservative Christian, served as a key connector between Trump and evangelical voters, a powerful and influential part of the Republican political base.

But he has also become, along with Trump, the face of the White House response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 177,000 people in the United States and put tens of millions of Americans out of work. Pence leads the White House coronavirus task force.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Pence had “pulled his punch” in confronting the virus and became “a figure in the background” after being appointed to lead the task force.

“They were slow in anticipation and, not only that, reacting to what was happening out there in terms of the spread of the virus,” Pelosi said in a video press briefing on Wednesday.

A White House official said Pence would not shy away from speaking about the virus and the administration’s work to tackle it. He is proud of that work, said the official, who noted that Pence’s appointment to lead the effort showed Trump’s confidence in him.

Another official said Pence would offer an optimistic vision for the country while also providing a contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees in the Nov. 3 election. At their own party convention last week, Biden and Harris warned Americans against giving Trump a second term in the White House.

Despite the promise of an upbeat message, the first two days of the Republican gathering were peppered with ominous predictions of a wave of radical socialism and chaos if Democrats won the White House.

First lady Melania Trump struck a more compassionate note in her Tuesday night address from the White House Rose Garden, acknowledging the suffering caused by the pandemic as well as the harsh reality of racial unrest. Trump plans to speak before a large crowd on the White House South Lawn on Thursday, the convention’s last day.

Trump is trailing Biden in opinion polls and Republicans are hoping he will get a boost from a convention that is highlighting his re-election themes of “law and order” and a soaring economy before the coronavirus outbreak.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken Aug. 19-25 showed Biden had not seen a bounce in popular support from his party’s convention last week, but maintains a 7-percentage-point lead over Trump nationally.

HATCH ACT CONCERNS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Trump’s foreign policy record in a video address from Jerusalem, drawing criticism from Democrats and former officials for breaking with protocol by using his appointed office for partisan purposes.

The Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee’s oversight subcommittee announced an investigation into whether Pompeo’s appearance breached regulations or the 1939 Hatch Act, which limits political activities by federal employees.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Politico in a video interview on Wednesday that Pompeo was speaking in a personal capacity and used no federal assets in delivering the speech.

Tuesday night’s convention program also included a citizenship naturalization ceremony at the White House, overseen by the acting secretary of homeland security, and a presidential pardon, raising concerns the apparatus of the federal government was being harnessed for Trump’s re-election campaign.

Pence plans to speak from Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, the inspiration for the U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a national monument under federal control.

The Maryland site allows space for an outdoor live audience. Both parties’ conventions have been dramatically scaled back, taking place mostly virtually and without large live audiences to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Other speakers scheduled on Wednesday include second lady Karen Pence, Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Joni Ernst of Iowa, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, and Kellyanne Conway, who announced earlier this week that she would be stepping down as a White House adviser.

(GRAPHIC: Where Biden and Trump stand on key issues – here)

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