“I love the building. I’m there right now. I spend a lot of time here. A lot of people didn’t spend as much time. I spend a lot of time here and I like it. And I think it’s a great place and greatly representative of our nation,” Trump said in support of the idea.
In response to Trump’s comments, Senate Majority Whip John Thune asked CNN’s Manu Raju, “is that even legal?” The No. 2 Senate Republican then added, “I assume that’s not something that you could do. I assume there’s some Hatch Act issues or something there.”
Later that day, Trump doubled-down on the idea and told reporters, “It is legal. There is no Hatch Act, because it doesn’t pertain to the President.”
Facts First: Trump is right, the President and vice president are exempt from violations under the Hatch Act, but it does apply to the presumably dozens of other executive branch staffers who would be involved in a convention event. The Hatch Act, which was passed in 1939, limits the political activities of federal employees while on duty or in the workplace. Essentially, it prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities, like campaigning, in a government building, like the White House.
When asked about the legality of Trump’s proposed plan, Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who covers government ethics, told CNN, “While the President giving his RNC acceptance speech from the White House wouldn’t be a violation for the President as such, it could be a violation for federal employees who assist him in preparation for that event.”
Clark added, “The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from using their government authority to influence an election and by definition if they’re involved in helping the President with his RNC acceptance speech, that is influencing the election.”
However, Clark said even then the risk is low because she believes this administration has turned a blind eye to past potential violations of the act. Kellyanne Conway, for example, has remained an adviser to the President despite the Office of the Special Counsel recommending her removal for violating the Hatch Act on several occasions by “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, the Office of Personnel Management can flag potential violations and the OSC can investigate them but ultimately it’s up to the individual’s employing agency to decide whether to remove them based on the OSC recommendation.
“This administration acts as though they don’t care about the Hatch Act,” Clark said. “The context of multiple violations and a refusal to hold violators accountable is relevant as we anticipate what Trump is going to do with regards to his RNC speech.”
Legal issues aside, top lawmakers on the Hill are concerned about the optics of the President making an overt campaign speech from the White House.
“It’s very wrong,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with MSNBC. “For the President of the United States to degrade, once again, the White House as he has done over and over again, by saying he’s going to completely politicize it is something that should be rejected right out of hand.”