Hatch Act Not a Bar for Acceptance Speech at White House

August 13, 2020 7:03 PM , Updated August 17, 2020 9:18 AM
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President Donald Trump speaking at the White House

President Donald Trump speaking at the White House | Photo credit: The White House

Where will President Trump make his acceptance speech to receive the Republican nomination as the party candidate to seek a second term of office?

Normally, it would be at the Republican convention but the pandemic derailed the normal convention process. President Trump has indicated he may make his speech at the White House or in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Both options led to immediate objections, primarily from Democrats or their supporters.

The President appears to be leaning in favor of using the White House for the address. At a Wednesday news conference, he called Gettysburg a “magnificent site,” but said the White House would be “much easier, from the standpoint of Secret Service and, you know, the movement of hundreds of people.”

This being an election year and the increasing divide growing ever greater between political opponents, the Office of Special Counsel and the Hatch Act are now in the headlines over the President’s acceptance speech for his nomination by the Republican party.

House Committee Seeks Opinion on Hatch Act

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform next sought an opinion form the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). OSC interprets and oversees application of the 1939 Hatch Act, as amended.

OSC has now responded to the Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) in response to the Committee’s request for an opinion.

OSC wrote in response to the Committee:

This letter is in response to a request by your committee staff for an advisory opinion concerning Hatch Act compliance related to a possible political event to be held on White House grounds. Recent media stories have reported that President Donald J. Trump is considering holding his Republican National Convention (RNC) acceptance speech at the White House.

President and Vice President Not Subject to Hatch Act

OSC’s opinion notes that the President and Vice President are not subject to the Hatch Act. The White House lawn and residence aren’t considered federal buildings. So, in effect, the Hatch Act does not prevent either President Trump or Vice President Pence from delivering a political speech on White House grounds.

White House employees are covered by the Hatch Act. For these employees, there may be Hatch Act implications.

What About White House Employees?

OSC wrote that most White House employees are subject to the Hatch Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal room or building.

This means these employees would not be able to assist with an event for the Republican National Committee while on duty or in a federal room or building.

If the employees take annual leave and the event is held on the White House lawn or in the residence, they are not prohibited from attending the event. These employees would be prohibited from attending the event if it were held in a federal room or building.

A White House spokesman wrote in a statement that any convention events would be planned by the campaign and the Republican National Committee. “Any government employees who may participate will do so in compliance with the Hatch Act,” according to the statement.

While the location of President Trump’s acceptance speech is not yet definite, the opinion of OSC would lead to the likelihood that it will be held at the White House but not in a federal building or federal room.

Hatch Act Advisory on Convention Acceptance Speech at the White House

© 2020 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

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About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47

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