US first lady Melania Trump has acknowledged the hardship and distress caused by the pandemic during a speech to a crowd seated in the White House Rose Garden.
On the second day of their convention, Republicans sought to reshape the narrative around the economy, pressing their case for President Donald Trump’s re-election over Democrat Joe Biden, arguing Mr Trump’s leadership is crucial to revitalise the economy and preserve religious freedom.
As her husband sat watching in the front row, Ms Trump insisted that the Trump administration will “not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment or vaccine available to everyone. Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic”.
“I want to acknowledge the fact that since March, our lives have changed drastically. The invisible enemy, COVID-19, swept across our beautiful country,” she said.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering.
“I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone.”
“I know … that Americans will go to the polls and vote on behalf of their families, our economy, our national security and and our children’s future. To vote for those ideals is not a partisan vote, it is a common sense vote, because those are goals and hopes that we all believe in.”
An array of officials and everyday Americans cited Mr Trump’s efforts to loosen economic regulations, put “America first” in trade deals and support religious freedom as reasons to back him in the November 3 election against Mr Biden, Barack Obama’s vice-president.
The pitch largely ignored the millions of jobs lost to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 177,000 Americans.
“Our economic choice is very clear. Do you want economic health, prosperity, opportunity and optimism, or do you want to turn back to the dark days of stagnation, recession and pessimism?” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said.
Opinion polls show voters view Mr Trump as strong on the economy despite the job losses during the pandemic.
The tone at times echoed Monday’s opening day, when Republicans reached out to solidify their core support by painting a dire portrait of a future America under Mr Biden’s leadership.
Cissie Graham Lynch, granddaughter of the late evangelist Reverend Billy Graham, said a Biden presidency would leave “no room for people of faith”. Mr Biden is Catholic and his faith was highlighted at last week’s convention.
In an appeal to black voters that touted his criminal justice bill despite pushing a law-and-order message and tough-on-crime policies, Mr Trump in a video also issued a pardon to a convicted Nevada bank robber, Jon Ponder, a black man who has become an advocate for other inmates.
“Jon’s life is a beautiful testament to the power of redemption,” Mr Trump said in the video.
Mr Trump, assailed by rights activists for immigration policies that have included separating families at the southern border with Mexico, appeared in a video leading a naturalisation ceremony for five immigrants becoming US citizens.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking in Jerusalem, praised a recent deal to normalise relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
He also highlighted the 2018 move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, which was popular with American evangelicals – a critical part of Mr Trump’s core support.
Mr Trump’s son Eric said Mr Biden was a career politician who knew nothing about running a company or the government and told voters “my father will continue to fight for you”.
With 70 days until the election, Mr Biden, 77, leads Mr Trump, 74, in opinion polls. Democrats nominated Mr Biden to challenge Mr Trump at their party’s convention last week.
Ms Trump’s remarks and the speech by Mr Pompeo, from a diplomatic trip to Israel, were criticised by Democrats.
They questioned the propriety of using the presidential residence for political purposes and of Mr Pompeo making a political speech while on a government trip.
Mr Trump will deliver a speech from the White House lawn on Thursday (local time).
The Trump campaign has shrugged off the complaints and said it would ensure all staff and participants complied with the law that restricted federal employees from certain political activities. The law excludes the President and Vice-President.
A total of 17 million people watched the Republican convention’s first night, according to Nielsen, fewer than the 19.7 million TV viewers who watched the first night of the Democratic National Convention last week.