Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders to Speak at Democratic National Convention, Make Case Against Trump

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AUGUST 17, 2020

Democrats plan to use the first night of their virtual convention to preview their general-election argument against President Trump, criticizing his response to the coronavirus pandemic and handling of recent protests against police, excerpts of Monday’s speeches show.

The four-day, mostly virtual event comes as former Vice President Joe Biden—who is expected to be formally nominated this week to face Mr. Trump in the November election—holds a significant lead in most polls. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Sunday found 50% of registered voters nationally say they would vote for Mr. Biden if the election were held now, while 41% back Mr. Trump.

Mr. Biden has largely been off the campaign trail in recent months due to the pandemic, and his party hopes to use the convention to excite Democratic voters about his White House bid.

Democrats planned a display of unity behind him Monday, with speeches from party luminaries such as former first lady Michelle Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as well as a handful of Republicans, including former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“I know Joe, he is a profoundly decent man guided by faith. He was a terrific vice president, he knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic and lead our country,” Mrs. Obama said in a video clip distributed by the Democratic National Convention Committee. “And he listens. He will tell the truth and trust science, he will make smart plans and manage a good team. And he will govern as someone who has lived a life that the rest of us can recognize.”

Democrats originally planned to hold their convention in Milwaukee, which was chosen in part due to criticism that 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton didn’t put enough effort into Wisconsin. But the coronavirus forced the party to make alternate arrangements. Mr. Trump is mounting his own show of force in the state, with a visit Monday and stops by Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Trump’s son Eric this week.

The Democratic convention formally ends a contentious primary season with a large field of candidates, including liberals and moderates who fought over the direction of the party. Mr. Biden has been the presumptive nominee for months, however, capturing the nomination after several other moderate candidates endorsed him. He has made efforts to engage the party’s left flank on issues like climate, health care and education.

Mr. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who was Mr. Biden’s longest-lasting rival in the primary, has a prime speaking slot which he is expected to use to urge voters to support the former vice president and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

“The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake,” Mr. Sanders is expected to say, according to excerpts of his remarks. “We must come together, defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president. My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”

The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Biden appears to have the support of much of the party. According to The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this month, Mr. Biden is winning nine out of 10 Democrats and 9% of Republicans. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has the support of 86% of Republicans and 6% of Democrats.

Mr. Biden is set to formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination in a speech from his home state of Delaware Thursday. Ms. Harris will also appear there Wednesday to accept the nomination for vice president.

Monday’s program will also feature a roundtable of Mr. Biden’s former rivals for the presidential nomination, a discussion of race in light of nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd in police custody, and a segment on responding to the pandemic.

“Americans’ eyes have been opened, and we have seen in this crisis the truth: that government matters and leadership matters. And it determines whether we thrive and grow, or whether we live or die,” Mr. Cuomo, whose daily briefings during the Covid-19 pandemic became must-watch TV for Democrats, is expected to say. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was one of about a dozen women considered to be Mr. Biden’s running mate, is also expected to speak about the coronavirus response.

Programming for the first-of-its-kind virtual event will run from Monday to Thursday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT. Democrats have sought to replace some of the community aspects of in-person conventions by organizing smaller meetings and watch parties over Zoom this week. Biden campaign spokeswoman Symone Sanders said Monday that they would also host drive-in watch parties in states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania.

Delegates were told to participate in the convention remotely and only a few Democrats traveled to Milwaukee for the week. Some media will be allowed to cover Mr. Biden’s and Ms. Harris’s Delaware speeches in person.

Mr. Biden is expected to pop up throughout the program in the days leading up to his acceptance speech, deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said. On Monday, he will participate in the racial-justice conversation alongside activist Jamira Burley, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, NAACP President Derrick Johnson and author Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 during an arrest in New York City.

“He sent troops in camouflage into our streets,” Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser is expected to say of Mr. Trump’s response to recent protests. Her remarks are scheduled before Mr. Biden’s panel. “He sent tear gas into the air—federal helicopters, too. I knew if he did this to D.C., he would do it to your city or your town.”

Ms. Harris, who ran for the Democratic nomination before leaving the race in December last year, will participate in the discussion with former rivals. The event will feature Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, and businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.

Monday’s lineup aims to show support for Mr. Biden from a range of ideological viewpoints. On the other end of the spectrum from Mr. Sanders are a group of Republicans, including Mr. Kasich, who sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman, former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive Meg Whitman and former U.S. Rep. Susan Molinari of New York during a section titled, “We The People Putting Country Over Party.”

“I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country. That’s why I’ve chosen to appear at this convention. In normal times, something like this would probably never happen, but these are not normal times,” Mr. Kasich is expected to say.

Despite the pandemic, this year’s convention has a calmer feel than the 2016 event, when Mr. Sanders’s supporters were frustrated with the party establishment and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation after a leak of internal emails. This year, Mr. Sanders has encouraged his backers to support Mr. Biden, and the party platform process appeared smoother this year.

Some progressives, such as former Sanders campaign aide David Sirota, have grumbled publicly about the amount of speaking time given to Republicans. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a prominent progressive lawmaker, has said she was given one minute for her remarks Tuesday.

In the Monday briefing with reporters, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D., La), a co-chairman of Mr. Biden’s campaign, said Mr. Sanders was slated to speak for eight minutes—which he said was one of the longer speaking slots—and said the digital event meant abbreviated speaking roles overall.

“We’re making sure that every segment of the country that supports the Biden-Harris ticket has a chance to express why they’re supporting. That includes GOP members, GOP people that are supporting the vice president because there are a number of them around the country,” he said.

Republicans will hold their four-day convention next week. Mr. Trump is expected to be featured each day, say officials involved in planning. He will accept the nomination on the final night in the prime-time speech currently scheduled to be delivered from the White House grounds.


Courtesy/Source: The Wall Street Journal

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