As U.S. faces coronavirus crisis and police protests, Trump to attack Biden

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was set to launch an attack on Democratic rival Joe Biden on the Republican National Convention’s final night on Thursday, as the United States struggles to address the coronavirus pandemic and a wave of anti-racism protests.

The Republican incumbent plans to take on his Democratic challenger, who is leading in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election, in a speech on the White House South Lawn, a controversial location for a partisan event. Trump’s remarks will cap a four-day convention that has portrayed him as a leader who can revive the economy and restore order.

“At no time before have voters faced a clearer choice between two parties, two visions, two philosophies, or two agendas,” Trump is expected to say.

“We have spent the last four years reversing the damage Joe Biden inflicted over the last 47 years,” he said, referring to Biden’s career as a senator and vice president.

Excerpts from Trump’s speech were provided by a source on condition of anonymity.

The speech comes as the United States reports more than 180,000 deaths from the coronavirus — more than any other country — and amid a fresh wave of protests against the latest high-profile police shooting of a Black American.

The expected tone echoes Trump’s message four years ago, in his first run for public office.

“I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, come to an end,” Trump told the Republican convention in Cleveland in July 2016.

On Thursday, Kenosha, Wisconsin, started the day under a curfew after three nights of civil strife – including arson, vandalism and deadly shootings – all sparked by a police shooting that paralyzed a Black man.

Trump, a former New York real estate developer, is seeking to turn around a re-election campaign that has been largely overshadowed by the pandemic, which has also put millions of Americans out of work.

While his approval rating among Republicans remains high, dissent within his own party is mounting. In three open letters being published on Thursday and Friday, Biden won endorsements from more than 160 people who worked for former President George W. Bush or for past Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney, the New York Times and Politico reported.

Earlier this week, 27 former Republican lawmakers endorsed Biden while the Lincoln Project, among the most prominent Republican-backed groups opposing Trump, said a former Republican Party head had joined it as a senior adviser.

Trump, a former reality television host, and his advisers have set up his speech with a producer’s eye. He will address the nation with the White House as his backdrop, irking critics who say holding a political event there is a potential violation of the law.

The Hatch Act, which limits the use of federal property for political purposes, excludes the president and vice president but not other federal employees, including White House staff.

Fireworks are expected over Washington’s nearby monuments at the conclusion of Trump’s speech. He will address a large crowd on the lawn despite warnings against such gatherings because of the pandemic, which has forced both political parties to scale back their conventions and make events mostly virtual.

Trump’s campaign says coronavirus precautions will be taken. The president often boasts about his crowd sizes; his campaign has largely done away with his signature rallies due to the virus.

‘NOT GROUNDED IN REALITY’

Also on Thursday, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, plans to deliver a speech in Washington characterizing the Republican convention as a dishonest distraction from the White House’s pandemic response.

“Part of what I will be talking about is that they’re dealing in lies but also they are not grounded in reality,” Harris said during a fundraising event on Wednesday. “People are grieving. They’re grieving the loss of lives and the people they’ve loved. They’re grieving the loss of jobs. They’re grieving the loss of normalcy and consistency.”

Democrats have criticized Trump’s aggressive response to demonstrations after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a Black man.

On Wednesday, Trump said he was sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, Wisconsin, after violent protests there in the wake of the latest shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by police.

Trump kicked off the week on Monday by accusing Democrats of seeking to steal the election by advocating for mail-in voting. His previous high-profile speeches have also emphasized grim themes, including his inaugural address in January 2017 that described “American carnage.”

Other speakers scheduled for Thursday include Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson; attorney Rudy Giuliani, a fierce critic of Biden and his son Hunter, and religious leader Franklin Graham.

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