Vice President Mike Pence will address the Republican National Convention next week from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, marking a return by national Republicans to a city President Donald Trump has called corrupt and “rodent infested.”
Pence is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the fort, where 1,000 U.S. soldiers withstood a British bombardment in 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became “The Star-Spangled Banner,” according to a senior Trump campaign official on Thursday.
The theme of the GOP convention — in which Trump and Pence are to be nominated for second terms — is “Honoring the Great American Story.” Each night has its own particular theme, and Wednesday’s is “Land of Heroes.”
According to the campaign official, other speakers in various locations include Trump, U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Tim Scott of South Carolina, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Among the other scheduled speakers are Nick Sandmann, a Kentucky high school student who said media organizations wrongly called him racially insensitive after an encounter with a Native American man during a 2019 Washington rally. Also on the list are Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a St. Louis couple who were shown widely in the media waving guns at protesters in June.
The other nightly themes are “Land of Opportunity” featuring a speech by Melania Trump, the first lady; “Land of Promise,” and “Land of Greatness.” The latter theme is for the final night, when the president speaks.
Trump gave a Memorial Day address this year at Fort McHenry, honoring fallen military members and likening their contributions to those of service members on the front lines battling the coronavirus.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, a Democrat, urged Trump to reconsider that visit, saying it set the wrong example as the city was then under a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus. There was no comment Thursday night from a spokesperson for the mayor on Pence’s plans.
But U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen said the Trump-Pence campaign should “have some decency” and reverse course.
The administration “goes out of its way to treat Baltimore like a political punching bag, until they need a convenient location for a campaign event,” the Democrat said. “Our great city, its history and culture, and our national monuments — where American soldiers fought and died — are no place for Trump politics.”
Currently, Baltimore indoor and outdoor gatherings are capped at 25 people.
It is uncertain how many people would attend Pence’s speech at Fort McHenry. Trump gave his Memorial Day speech outdoors.
Fort McHenry is a National Monument and Historic Shrine. It is overseen by the National Park Service, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
National Park Service employees are subject to the Hatch Act, which prohibits executive branch employees from engaging in political activity while at work. They also can’t use a federal building for such activity.
But a National Park Service spokesperson said Thursday night that “National parks are often used as backdrops for political events, which are subject to the exact same policies as any other request for an event by an outside group.”
The president and vice president are exempt from the Hatch Act. A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night.
Like the Democrats at their convention this week, Republicans are positioning speakers at locations around the country. The pandemic has prevented both parties from hosting the usual mass gathering of convention delegates.
Baltimore had a brief onscreen role in the Democratic convention, as well. City Council President Brandon Scott, the Democratic nominee for mayor, was shown Tuesday in a video roll call to nominate Joe Biden as the party’s candidate for U.S president. The convention was to wrap up Thursday night with a speech by Biden.
In 2019, Trump launched a string of tweets and comments attacking U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings — who died in October — as well as the congressman’s hometown of Baltimore and his 7th Congressional District. Trump called the city “rat and rodent infested.”
Pence was last in Baltimore at a September 2019 Republican retreat. He said Republicans were ready to work with Democrats “to improve the lives of people in cities like Baltimore.”
A day earlier, Trump told lawmakers at the retreat that the GOP was “going to fight for the future of cities like Baltimore that have been destroyed by decades of failed and corrupt rule.”