Seems like a mistake. Granted, the older you are, the more you’re at risk of a “poor outcome” from the disease, as doctors are known to delicately phrase it. And Biden’s, like, a thousand.
But he should be looking for ways to signal to voters that he’s not too frail to do the job. They’ve gotten used to him doing interviews from his basement, but if it’s too risky for him to show up at a mostly empty arena to deliver remarks at his own convention, maybe the presidency itself is too risky. There’s no guarantee that a vaccine will work, or work particularly well, or work particularly well for people Biden’s age. How’s he supposed to perform his duties next year if he can’t safely travel from Point A to Point B with all sorts of precautions taken to protect his health?
I’m sure Wisconsinites won’t hold it against him, though. They’re used to Democratic presidential nominees not visiting.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will not travel to Milwaukee to accept his party’s White House nomination because of concerns over the coronavirus.
That’s according to a Democrat with knowledge of the decision who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity to discuss planning.
The move is the latest example of the pandemic’s sweeping effects on the 2020 presidential election and the latest blow to traditional party nominating conventions that historically have marked the start of fall general election campaigns.
Two weeks ago the Daily Beast reported on elaborate preparations for the Democrats’ pageant in Milwaukee, including a huge video screen behind the podium that would display Zoom feeds from up to 64 people, be they delegates, important Democratic figures, or random voters. They even had a tentative schedule for key speakers: Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders on night one, Jill Biden on night two, the VP nominee on night three, and Biden on night four. (Barack Obama would be shoehorned in there somewhere.) Importantly, Biden himself would be the only speaker physically present in Milwaukee.
Now that he’s not attending, what’s left of the convention itself? “It’s not a convention if no one convenes,” quipped NYT reporter Astead Herndon. The delegate roll call formally nominating Biden was already set to be a hybrid event done “remotely and live,” per the Daily Beast, but in light of Biden’s announcement today presumably that’ll be fully remote as well. It looks like the entire “convention” may be virtual this year. And as for Joe, he’ll reportedly speak — where else? — from Delaware, where he’s holed up.
Question: Why is this being announced today? Partly it’s because Democrats are running out of time to announce a major change of plans, with events set to begin in just 12 days. But I wonder if they chose this morning to spread the news because they got some political cover from the Trump White House last night. Trump is reportedly considering not traveling to the site of the GOP convention to deliver his nomination acceptance speech as well. Where’s he going to speak? Why, the south lawn of the White House, according to one proposal. Which, although not quite illegal, is an ethical transgression in how it would apply the trappings of the public office he holds to his personal interests, i.e. winning reelection. Go figure that a guy who tried to use military aid to squeeze Ukraine for dirt on his presidential opponent once again isn’t being a stickler about a bright line between the public’s interest and his own.
Under federal law, government employees and property are generally barred from being used for political purposes, with notable exceptions. The Hatch Act, which prevents federal officials from certain forms of political activity at work, exempts both the president and the vice president from any restrictions…
“He may not be violating the Hatch Act, but he is ordering other people to,” [former Bush ethics chief Richard] Painter said. “At a certain point you are using White House resources, and that is a violation of the Hatch Act.”
Potential Hatch Act violations are investigated by the Office of Special Counsel, which refers its findings back to the White House to take further action. But two Democratic lawyers, who requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said that while Hatch Act violations do not result in criminal prosecutions, the misuse of congressionally appropriated funds for a political purpose could be criminally enforceable, and the statute of limitations would not have run out in 2021, when the winner of this year’s election takes office.
I think Trump won’t end up doing this. Not because he’ll have any ethical qualms about it, lord knows, but because the backlash to it will make it more trouble than it’s worth. And not just a backlash from the usual suspects, either:
Thune: “Is that even legal? I assume that’s not something that you could do. I assume there’s some Hatch Act issues or something there. I don’t know the answer to that."
Thune added: "I think anything you do on federal property would seem to be problematic." https://t.co/jk916KC6qK
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) August 5, 2020
Mark me down as being opposed to delivering the acceptance speech from the White House. There are so many other symbolic venues (including those I’ve previously mentioned) that would be better. Instead, it becomes just another speech from the WH and sets a bad precedent.
— Alex Stroman (@alexstroman) August 5, 2020
Stroman is a former spokesman for Trump’s inaugural committee. Giving the speech from the White House would tee up Biden and Democrats to use it as an example of how Trump can’t resist petty corruption of the office even at a moment when he’s pleading with voters to grant him a four-year extension in it. The unflattering coverage would risk overshadowing his own speech. Why doesn’t he try to arrange for his address to be held in front of some monument somewhere that leftists have targeted or criticized? He could go back to Mt. Rushmore if need be. Or, if it’s logistically possible, he could speak in front of the Lincoln “Emancipation” monument in D.C. that some Jacobins wanted to tear down, although that’s probably not feasible given the risk of protesters trying to disrupt the event. Police would have to clear many blocks around the statue to secure it.
How about Gettysburg? Trump could do his own Gettysburg address (in the swing state of Pennsylvania too). Hopefully he’ll refrain from saying something complimentary about the Confederacy if he’s tightly scripted.