Between Senator Tim Scott’s well-received Monday night speech, stories on both nights from everyday Americans, and remarks from rising stars, Tuesday’s RNC festivities resulted in a no good, awful, very bad day for the broadcast networks. Minutes into their coverage, ABC and CBS spontaneously combusted upon seeing President Trump holding a naturalization ceremony at the White House.
This took place despite ABC’s best efforts to tell viewers that the President’s “anti-immigration,” CBS (and ABC) insisting the event was illegal. On NBC, they ignored the event altogether in favor of horse-race discussion of the campaign.
At 10:02 p.m. Eastern, ABC senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce tried to downplay the impending speech from First Lady Melania Trump that would emphasize her life “as an immigrant,” kvetching that she’ll run into “the fact that the President is running a — a — a campaign that is very much anti-immigration.”
Bruce’s slight took a hit not even five minutes later when the President appeared on the RNC stream alongside acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf for the naturalization ceremony of five new Americans.
Wolf swore them in and, seconds after the President began his remarks, chief anchor and former Clinton flack George Stephanopoulos stepped in and called on his panel. Former Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) emphasized there would “be some criticism” of whatever the President chose to do given the costs of moving the President (regardless of the pandemic).
Stephanopoulos replied that “the Hatch Act doesn't apply to the President, but it is against the law to use — for government — for government employees to use their job for political purposes.”
After having done so during the DNC, Stephanopoulos went to former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) by harkening back to their days as Clinton administration officials, stating that they both “were shaking our heads as we were watching” the event because, having served in the White House, it was “unimaginable” someone “could use the White House this way.”
Stephanopoulos left facts in the rear view mirror as he neglected to mention two Clinton scandals such as his use of the Lincoln Bedroom for donors and his 1996 campaign’s alleged entanglements with the Chinese government.
Emanuel and fellow lefty panelist Yvette Simpson was more than happy to oblige in helping with Stephanopoulos's spin (click “expand,” emphasis mine):
EMANUEL: Yeah, I was going to say, in all due respect to putting this on COVID, this is -- it's not COVID. This is a President who has always broken the boundaries. He doesn't think the law applies to him....But this is breaking the boundaries of not just a Zoom-like convention. Nobody's ever used the platform of the White House. I mean, nobody envisioned Jacqueline Kennedy's Rose Garden as a platform for where the First Lady''s going to, you know, talk about the President in a convention speech. And so they — every notion of a secretary of state speaking, let alone doing it from a foreign country at the roof of the King David Hotel overlooking the wailing wall? I mean, but my view is, I go back to my core question, is this closing the gap of a nine-point deficit?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and that’s the question.
EMANUEL: I mean, this is, for the lawyers, they clearly did not ask their opinion, but it's too late already. It violates a lot of laws.
SIMPSON: More political pageantry and I don't know that anybody's buying it. I mean, yes, this is a great ceremony. Yes, we are so excited to welcome these folks here, as we should, but even the words he spoke, you followed the law, you — and I talked about that earlier, him making this juxtaposition against good black and brown people versus bad black and brown people and are people going to forget the things he said about immigrants? The fact that he caged kids at the border? The fact that he considered Latin Americans as bad hombres? Are people going to look at this and forget that? I don't think so. I don’t think he's fooling anybody other than the people who are gullible who suck up everything he says.
Senior White House correspondent Cecilia Vega did her best to reiterate what Bruce had said prior to Trump, chastising the event as work since work at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has ground to a halt amid Trump's “anti-immigration campaign.” She further condemned the event because “immigration is low on the list of concerns for voters” seeing as how “they're talking about the economy and COVID.”
While ABC was irked by the event itself and Hatch Act concerns, CBS was irate over the latter. Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus laid out the facts and thus a view beyond their partisan lenses, but it fell on deaf ears (click “expand,” emphasis mine):
O’DONNELL: And there, the President presiding over that naturalization ceremony. There are strict laws in this country that govern the political activity of federal civilian executive branch employees and I want to bring back in our panel on this. Margaret, never before have we seen a President use the majesty of the White House federal building in order to conduct political activity like that. What are we seeing here tonight?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you're going to hear the term “the Hatch Act” thrown around all the time by political pundits but what it gets at is just this idea that using federal assets, which are paid for by us taxpayers in a political way is undermining of the institution and democracy itself. What you're seeing there, it's also interesting that the acting secretary was just recently found to be unlawfully serving in the job he is — was just introduced as holding. He's been serving in this role well, well beyond the Vacancies Act. These are laws established to create some kind of norm, to create some kind of boundary for what is proper for the presidency and how to use the office and President Trump has campaigned and turned this into an asset of upending norms and established expectations, but they were established in the first place, and I know John has written extensively on why they exist.
JOHN DICKERSON: Well, we don't have to go through the whole history. But what's — what's really fascinating about this is presidents have always kind of played with the line. He's stepping right over it, and I think part of the hope is that the controversy created will convey a message, and that message is that he cares about immigrants —
DICKERSON: — which is contrary to the message that is — that most of the country believes.
[INAUDIBLE BRENNAN COMMENT]
O’DONNELL: And just to remind people this is not a partisan conversation we're having. Bill Clinton received extraordinary criticism and scrutiny for using the Lincoln Bedroom as a place to pay back political donors. Reince, you were the chief of staff. I mean, this is — if you were chief of staff during the Republican convention, would you allow the White House to be used to hold a political event?
REINCE PRIEBUS: Well, first of all —
O’DONNELL: You're also a lawyer, too.
PRIEBUS: — John — yeah, I’m a lawyer. John's right, it's always a balancing act, and when you're going into election, there are all kinds of things you have to account for. Using Air Force One. I mean, how does the President get around it? Well, he gets around in Air Force One. He parks it in front of an audience, the majesty of Air Force One is sitting there, so what do you need to do?
O’DONNELL: But the Republican National Committee reimburses the government.
PRIEBUS: That's right. That's exactly what I was going to say. So, you — you strike a balance and pay for things differently. I'm sure that's happening as well in the White House. Second thing, you go to the Office of Special Counsel and they write a letter and they analyze it and they say, you know, we’ve looked at this. We’ve got a letter from the independent group of lawyers that say you can do this speech from the White House and then you also have coronavirus and you have special conditions, and you have all kinds of other considerations — social distancing, you know, health and all those things come into play. It's been approved. Some people might not like it, but it's been approved, and financially, it will be accounted for.
The Hatch Act issue continued to be a theme later in the evening as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered a personal, taped message from Jerusalem. Like with the naturalization ceremony, CBS's Brennan and O'Donnell were less than pleased and even laughed at Priebus merely trying to rebut their quarrels with Pompeo's address and voicing support for Trump's reelection.
As Priebus tried to state, the law doesn't “exclude people from being involved in politics, but what it does exclude is using your position and taking something of value and inserting it into the political arena and Mike Pompeo didn't do that.” Further, the opinion of the Office of Special Counsel was sought and, while they had concerns, they didn't prohibit the administration's plans.
Over on NBC, senior Washington correspondent Andrea Mitchell bemoaned that Pompeo's behavior was “unprecedented because there is a law against federal employees doing politics on the job” and “inspired criticism” across the spectrum.
No word on what Brennan, Mitchell, and O'Donnell made made of then-Secretary of State John Kerry insisting in June 2016 that “everyone” should celebrate Hillary Clinton securing the Democratic Party nomination.
These network meltdowns were made possible by advertisers such as ADT (on CBS), Ford (on ABC), Nature’s Bounty (on ABC), Progressive (on NBC), Salonpas (on CBS), and Volkswagen (on NBC). Follow the links to the MRC’s Conservatives Fight Back page.