- Speeches from the first night of the Democratic National Convention caught a lot of attention, including one from Michelle Obama, who delivered her strongest criticism of President Donald Trump to date.
- Other speeches that made waves were from Bernie Sanders and John Kasich, who both delivered clashing messaging on whether Joe Biden will be progressive or cater to conservatives who have disavowed Trump.
- The daughter of a Trump supporter who died of COVID-19 and George Floyd’s family also spoke, giving remarks about the pandemic and the fight for racial justice, two of the biggest issues facing the country right now.
- Trump later condemned many of the speeches and speakers, and both he and his campaign continued to paint the Democrats and Biden as radical leftists.
Michelle Obama’s Speech
Day one of the first ever virtual Democratic National Convention is now officially on the books. On Monday, Democrats, Republicans, and progressive speakers from across the political spectrum kicked off the four-day event.
Former first lady Michelle Obama headlined the night with a nearly 20-minute keynote address that has been described as her strongest public criticism of President Donald Trump ever.
“Whenever we look to this White House for some leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy,” she said. “But right now, kids in this country are seeing what happens when we stop requiring empathy of one another.”
“They see an entitlement that says only certain people belong here, that greed is good, and winning is everything because as long as you come out on top, it doesn’t matter what happens to everyone else,” she continued.
“And they see what happens when that lack of empathy is ginned up into outright disdain. They see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists.”
“So let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is,” the former first lady added before going on to argue that all the reasons she outlined show why Americans need to vote for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November.
“So if you take one thing from my words tonight, it is this: if you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election,” she said. “If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
Sanders and Kasich Share Competing Messages
Some of the other most talked-about speeches of the night were delivered by political figures who are less politically aligned with Biden.
In addition to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) giving his highly anticipated address, multiple Republicans also called on their party to reject Trump, including former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. While both Sanders and Kasich spoke about putting aside their political differences with Biden to defeat Trump, both seemed to describe two very different Bidens.
Sanders, for his part, appealed to his supporters by trying to paint Biden as someone who has adopted some of the progressive policies he supports, starting off his speech by talking about how some of his views had become more mainstream in recent months.
“Our campaign ended several months ago, but our movement continues and is getting stronger every day,” he said. “Many of the ideas we fought for, that just a few years ago were considered ‘radical,’ are now mainstream. But let us be clear. If Donald Trump is reelected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy.”
Sanders also listed a number of Biden’s policies he said are examples of how the former vice president would move the progressive agenda forward, including raising the minimum wage, making it easier for workers to join unions, fighting climate change, and reforming the criminal justice system, among other things.
Notably, Sanders’ most significant remarks actually came the day before he spoke at the convention. During an interview on “Meet the Press,” the self-described Democratic Socialist said he was confident that progressives would be able to influence Biden’s policies if he won.
“What I will credit strongly the Biden campaign for is that Joe and I talked about this and he and I agreed that we should have task forces dealing with some of the major issues facing this country,” he said.
“But I think if people look at the outcome of those task forces, they’ll find the reality that if those task force proposals are implemented, you know what, Joe Biden will become the most progressive president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”
In his convention speech, Kasich went the opposite way, emphasizing his Republican roots and presenting Biden as someone who Republicans and conservative Independents could vote for because he would not be influenced by those same progressive ideas.
“I’m a lifelong Republican. That attachment holds second place to my responsibility to country,” he said. “I’ve known Joe Biden for 30 years. I know his story of profound grief that is so deeply affected his character joins a good man. A man of faith. A unifier. Someone who understands the hopes and dreams of the common man and the common woman.”
“I’m sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat,” he continued. “They believe he may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that. I know the measure of the man. Reasonable. Faithful, respectful and no one pushes Joe around.”
These two very different and contradictory narratives raise some important questions about Biden’s campaign. Currently, it is unclear if the former vice president will try to appeal to progressives like Sanders’ base, court conservatives who may have voted for Trump before but now are dissatisfied, or try to straddle a middle ground.
Regardless, this is likely something Biden will have to address, and soon, because if he leans too far one way, he risks alienating one of those groups, and both could be essential to sway the election.
Other Notable Moments
While political figures headlined the first day of the convention, some of the most notable moments of the nights came from remarks made by everyday people.
One now-viral clip came from a woman named Kristin Urquiza, whose father was a Trump supporter who died of coronavirus in Arizona this summer.
“My dad, Mark Anthony Urquiza, should be here today, but he isn’t. He had faith in Donald Trump. He voted for him, listened to him, believed him and his mouthpieces when they said that coronavirus was under control and going to disappear,” she said.
“So, in late May, after the stay-at-home order was lifted in Arizona, my dad went to a karaoke bar with his friends,” she continued. “A few weeks later, he was put on a ventilator. And after five agonizing days, he died alone in the ICU with a nurse holding his hand. My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”
At another moment during the evening, the family of George Floyd, specifically his brother, Philonise Floyd, spoke about the nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality before asking for a moment of silence.
“It’s a fitting legacy for our brother, but George should be alive today,” he said. “Breonna Taylor should be alive today. Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today. Eric Garner should be alive today. Stephon Clark, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland– they should all be alive today. So it’s up to us to carry on the fight for justice. Our actions will be their legacies.”
With three more days of the Democratic National Convention to go and the Republican National Convention slotted for next week, Trump has been going on the offensive.
In addition to scheduling multiple campaign events in battleground states in an attempt to counterprogram the convention, Trump has also responded to the Democratic event by targeting both individual speakers and the party as a whole.
Before Kasich gave his speech, the president sought to undermine him by personally attacking his character.
“He was a loser as a Republican, and he’ll be a loser as a Democrat,” Trump told reporters. “Major loser as a Republican. I guess you can quote me on that. John was a loser as a Republican. Never even came close. And as a Democrat he’ll be an even greater loser.”
The president also went after the former first lady on Tuesday.
“She was over her head,” he said, using the same words she used to describe him in her speech. “And frankly, she should have made the speech live, which she didn’t do. She taped it. … If you gave a real review, it wouldn’t be so fawning. I thought it was a very divisive speech, extremely divisive.”
Both the president and his campaign have also gone after Democrats more broadly by continuing their efforts to present them as radical and far left.
“Democrats can try to conceal the dangerous truth with a Hollywood-produced infomercial, but they can’t hide the fact that the radical socialist leftist takeover of Joe Biden is complete,” Trump’s campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said statement Monday.
Trump himself also made similar remarks during a campaign rally in Wisconsin the same day.
“You want to crush our economy. Under the crazy socialist policies of Sleepy Joe Biden and his boss, Kamala Harris — Kamala — and his other boss, Nancy Pelosi — she’s a beauty — and his ruler, Bernie Sanders, Crazy Bernie, or do you want to quickly rebuild the strongest economy in the history of the world?” he said.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (The New York Times)
McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024
The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.
McConnell Doubles Down
During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.
“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.”
McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.
The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.
McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.
“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.
Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.
“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).
Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.
“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.
Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.
The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.
On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”
With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)
Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico
The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.
Texas Border Wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.
Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.
While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.
Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.
During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.
The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.
Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.
While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.
“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”
Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.
Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months.
Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.
Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.
The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.
During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.
“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”
See what others are saying: (The Texas Tribune) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Biden Ends Infrastructure Talks With Republicans
The president is now looking at other paths forward, including a plan being drafted by a bipartisan group of senators or the possibility of passing his proposal without Republican support.
Biden Looks to Bipartisan Group as Negotiations Collapse
After weeks of negotiations, President Joe Biden ended his efforts to reach an infrastructure deal with a group of Senate Republicans Tuesday.
Hopes for the centerpiece of Biden’s domestic agenda, however, are not dead. Lawmakers have already moved quickly to craft contingencies, outlining three main pathways for the next steps forward.
First, while an agreement between Biden and Republican senators is no longer an option, a joint deal is not off the table. Amid the ongoing negotiations, a bipartisan group of centrist senators have been quietly crafting an alternative plan in case the talks collapsed.
Currently, very few details of that plan are public, but the moderates have made it clear that their biggest division right now is the same sticking point that hung up Biden and the GOP group: how to fund the plan.
Negotiations on that front could prove very difficult, but they could also yield more votes. As a result, Biden indicated this path is his first choice, calling three members of the group Tuesday evening to cheer on their efforts.
Even if the group can come up with a deal that appeases Biden, the possibility still exists that not enough members would embrace it. In addition to funding questions, there are still disputes between Democrats and Republicans in regards to what constitutes “infrastructure.”
The president wants to expand the definition to more broad, economic terms. Republicans, however, have repeatedly rejected that, instead opting for more traditional conceptions of infrastructure.
As a result, while GOP lawmakers are worried that any proposal from the moderates would be too expansive, Democrats are concern that key provisions would be cut.
If a joint agreement cannot be reached, Biden’s second option for his infrastructure plan would be to forge ahead to pass a deal with just Democratic support in the Senate through budget reconciliation, the same procedure used to get the stimulus bill through.
Biden, for his part, does appear to at least be considering this option. In addition to calling the bipartisan group moderates Tuesday evening, he also spoke to Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about drafting a new budget outline Democrats could use for the reconciliation process.
That path, however, also faces hurdles. In order for Democrats to even approve legislation through this process, they need all 50 members to vote in favor — something that is not guaranteed, given that some moderate senators have voiced their opposition to passing bills without bipartisan support.
While Schumer did say that he would still start work on a reconciliation package, he also outlined the third possible option: two separate bills.
“It may well be part of the bill that’ll pass will be bipartisan, and part of it will be through reconciliation,” he said Tuesday. “But we’re not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill.”