President Trump’s first public appearance since he announced his COVID-19 diagnosis appeared to be an unofficial rally at the White House. On Saturday, Mr. Trump addressed hundreds of supporters closely gathered and dressed in Trump campaign gear, repeating unfounded claims of election fraud, attacking Democratic leaders, and falsely claiming that Joe Biden is a socialist.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the event was an “official” event, and “the campaign is not involved in this.” Anyone in attendance was invited by the White House, Deere said.
While using the White House for a partisan political event is a violation of the Hatch Act, Deere insisted Saturday’s event had “no Hatch Act implications” because it was run by the White House and not the campaign.
The Hatch Act does not apply to the president or vice president, but does apply to any other executive branch officials who are involved. The president has been accused of repeatedly ignoring the act, most recently during the Republican National Convention.
“This is another example I think of the myriad ways in which Donald Trump breaks the rules, and over time, people stop getting agitated about it because he breaks the rules all the time,” Washington Post national correspondent Philip Bump told CBSN’s Lana Zak following the event. “Essentially, he is using taxpayer money to bolster his campaign.”
The address was made from the balcony overlooking the South Lawn, where Candace Owens’ BLEXIT Foundation was hosting a pro-police rally. Mr. Trump specifically addressed the crowd, telling them their shirts are “beautiful” and that he wants to “put one of them on instead of this white shirt.”
“We have to have law and order,” Mr. Trump said. “I want to thank the BLEXIT Foundation for organizing this event, and especially your two founders, two friends of mine, great people Candace Owens and former Tucson police officer Brandon Tatum. Great job, what a great job. … Thank you very much for being here.”
Owens tweeted on Saturday that the foundation helped pay for some attendees to travel to Washington, D.C.
The address was listed on the official White House schedule as “remarks at a peaceful protest for law & order.”
Virginia Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat, immediately criticized the president for the event, tweeting, “As Trump again uses the White House for a campaign speech, doubtless with the illegal use of taxpayer resources and funds, the Republican National Convention remains under investigation for Hatch Act violations.”
During the event, Mr. Trump continuously remarked on the election, telling attendees that “we got to vote these people into oblivion.”
“Democrats have run nearly every inner city in American… and their policies have delivered nothing but calamity, poverty and trouble,” Mr. Trump remarked. “Sleepy Joe Biden has betrayed Black and Latino Americans. If you think he can run this country, you’re wrong.”
After Mr. Trump said that this year has seen “more enthusiasm,” the crowd loudly chanted “four more years.”
Mr. Trump, who tested positive for COVID-19 on October 1, has yet to say if he has tested negative for the virus. Footage of the event shows that the hundreds of attendees were standing inches from each other, and it’s unclear how many had masks.
The White House had invited 2,000 people to attend Saturday’s event. Everyone who attended was supposed to wear a mask, and had to get tested for COVID-19 before going.
Saturday’s event comes two weeks after Mr. Trump held a nomination ceremony in the Rose Garden in honor of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom he nominated to the Supreme Court. Several people who attended the event have since been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Despite Mr. Trump being hospitalized last weekend after his own diagnosis, he said on Saturday that he is “feeling great.”
Nicole Sganga contributed reporting.