WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump has announced he is likely to give the acceptance speech for his party’s nomination at either the White House or 115 kilometers to the north at the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Asked by a reporter at a briefing on Monday why he is considering Gettysburg, which Trump said he had visited numerous times, the president replied, “It’s the history. It’s incredible, actually to me. It was a very important place and is a very important place in our country.”
The White House location, however, would be easier in terms of expense and security, according to Trump.
The president did not clearly indicate whether he is planning to invite an audience for the event, but noted: “You have plenty of room at both locations.”
Other venues are also under consideration, according to Trump.
We have narrowed the Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, to be delivered on the final night of the Convention (Thursday), to two locations - The Great Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the White House, Washington, D.C. We will announce the decision soon!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2020
The speech is to be delivered on Thursday, August 27. The event was originally to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then moved to Jacksonville, Florida. But both cities are now off limits for such a big, political event due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democrats have also drastically downscaled their party convention next week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Former Vice President Joe Biden has announced he will not travel to Milwaukee and will deliver an acceptance speech in his home state of Delaware.
Both the White House and the historic battlefield are federal properties, raising legal and ethical concerns about their use for what will be a political event by the president.
After the White House was first mentioned as a possible venue, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it an idea that “should be rejected right out of hand,” predicting “It won’t happen, let’s put it that way.”
Trump administration and campaign officials are obviously not rejecting it.
The alternative to the White House, which is a national park in Pennsylvania, commemorates the decisive July 1863 Union victory that ended Confederate General Robert E. Lee's second and most ambitious invasion of the North during the Civil War, the years-long fight over states' rights regarding slavery in the United States.
Four months after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln delivered what came to be known as the Gettysburg Address, which is one of the best-known speeches in American history. Lincoln said that the soldiers who died there helped preserve U.S. liberty and that America's “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The battlefield, however, may not provide the best political optics for such a speech by Trump, acknowledge some Republican sources, because of the president’s recent defense of generals from the losing side.
Both the White House and Gettysburg could be risky sites for some White House staff asked to help organize the event, as the Hatch Act limits the political activities in which they can be involved.
Certain executive branch appointees are allowed to engage in limited political activity while on duty in the executive residence portion of the White House, and political parties have to reimburse the federal government for all costs.
“Whether Trump holds this event at the White House or at Gettysburg, he's sending a message that there is no line between private gain and public responsibility in this administration,” said Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
“Trump is helping himself to a public resource to advance his personal political ambitions. It is not a resource that is available to his opponent, and it is one that should not be available to him. But the consistent theme of the Trump administration has been abuse of power, so it's no surprise that he's abusing power again,” Shaub, who became a harsh public critic of Trump after leaving his post in mid-2017, told VOA.
As for any administration officials or career staff not subject to Hatch Act exemptions to participate, Shaub added, “I hold out little hope that anyone responsible for enforcing that law will take appropriate action.”
Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1979 — while 50 Americans were being held hostage in Iran — decided to make his reelection announcement during a brief East Room ceremony. His campaign also used the Oval Office as a setting for an advertisement for a campaign that saw him lose to Ronald Reagan.