Trump makes race about 'freedom' and prisoner voting rights

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Friday delivered speeches at the National Rifle Association’s annual conference in Indianapolis, where they sought to frame the 2020 presidential race as a competition of freedom (their side) versus socialism (the Democrats) and previewed a likely Republican talking point in the campaign: the proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders to allow prisoners to vote in elections.

Sanders, a leading Democratic presidential contender, said during a CNN town hall that he believes every American citizen — presumably meaning those at least 18 years old — should have the right to vote, even felons serving life sentences.

“Let the Boston bomber vote,” Trump said, mocking Sanders’s proposal. “I don’t think so. Let terrorists who are in prison vote — I don’t think so.’”

The president continued: “When Bernie Sanders made certain statements the other day, I said, ‘Well, that’s the end of his campaign.’ Then, what happened is everybody agreed with him.”

Except everybody didn’t agree with him. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., each said they opposed giving violent criminals the right to vote from prison.

“The truth is, we live in a time when freedom is under assault,” Pence said in his NRA speech. “And it’s not just the freedom that the NRA so nobly defends, but the freedom to live, to work and to worship God are all being threatened by the radical left every day.”

“The same people who want to restrict the right to keep and bear arms of law-abiding citizens believe the Boston Marathon bomber should be given the right to vote on death row,” Pence said, drawing boos from the crowd. “I got news for you, Bernie: Not on our watch! Violent convicted felons, murderers, and terrorists should never be given the right to vote in prison — not now, not ever.”

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Melania, President Trump at Easter Egg Roll
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Melania, President Trump at Easter Egg Roll
US President Donald Trump (R) and US first lady Melania Trump talk during the White House Easter Egg Roll o the South Lawn of the White House April 22, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump walks with First Lady Melania Trump during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on April 22, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump blow whistles for the start, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 22, 2019, during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The Easter Bunny watches as President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday, April 22, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday, April 22, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Washington DC - April 22 : President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump At the annual White House Easter egg Roll, thousands of families enjoy the activities on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC. President Donald J Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump join the festivities. April 22, 2019. Credit: Patsy Lynch/MediaPunch /IPX
Washington DC - April 22 : President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump At the annual White House Easter egg Roll, thousands of families enjoy the activities on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC. President Donald J Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump join the festivities. April 22, 2019. Credit: Patsy Lynch/MediaPunch /IPX
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday, April 22, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 22 : President Donald J. Trump, with First Lady Melania Trump by his side, speaks the White House Easter Egg Roll held on the South Lawn at the White House on Monday, April 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and First Lady Melania Trump participate in the Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, April 22, 2019. Trump used the opportunity of the event to address some of his youngest supporters about one of his signature policy initiatives: building a wall on the southern U.S. border. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US first lady Melania Trump (L) and a person dressed as a bunny (R) listen while US President Donald Trump speaks during the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House on April 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Melania Trump blows a whistle to start a race during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll as US President Donald Trump watches on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on April 22, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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And given the setting, Trump naturally got in a dig at Democrats calling for stricter gun control laws.

“Every day, citizens across America exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves, their families and their communities,” the president said. “That’s a constitutional right. They want to take it away from you. They will take it away from you. If you let these maniacs get into office, they will take that right away, let me tell you.”

“The NRA deals in threats, propaganda, anger and fear to cling to its now-waning power. The goal is to scare us into inaction, but we won’t be deterred.”

— Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., whose presidential campaign is focused on gun control

Biden’s ‘View’

In his first interview since launching his campaign on Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden struggled with apologies inside the friendly confines of “The View.” The hosts pressed him to apologize to the seven women who had accused him of inappropriate behavior, which he eventually did, adding the qualifier that he was not “sorry in the sense that I think I did anything that was intentionally designed to do anything wrong or be inappropriate.”

Biden declined to apologize to Anita Hill, the lawyer who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearing, which was chaired by Biden. The former Delaware senator has been criticized for his treatment of Hill, and after 28 years reached out to her prior to the launch of his campaign. Hill told the New York Times that she wasn’t satisfied with Biden’s non-apology. When offered a chance to issue a more complete apology, Biden said he didn’t feel that he treated her badly.

“Look, I’m not going to judge whether or not she thought it was sufficient,” said Biden. “I said privately what I said publicly: I’m sorry she was treated the way she was treated, I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done, I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things.”

Biden answered “no” when asked if he would commit to serve just one term. He will be 77 on Election Day next year and — if he wins — 82 at the end of his first term.

Biden’s $6.3M haul

Also Friday, the Biden campaign announced that it raised $6.3 million in its first 24 hours — more than any campaign has done on the first day so far this cycle. Biden topped the first-day totals of Beto O'Rourke ($6.1 million) and Bernie Sanders ($5.9 million).

While the campaign said its online donations were, on average $41, it did not disclose how much of the $6.3 million figure was raised at Biden’s first fundraiser, held at the home of a Comcast executive in Philadelphia on Thursday.

“Come on in, the water is warm, Joe.”

— Kamala Harris, on Tuesday, two days before Biden announced he would run

Warren impresses ...

Sen. Elizabeth Warren impressed this week at a national gathering of women of color in Houston. Attendees of the She the People forum told both NBC News and CNN that Warren was the most impressive candidate at the event, which featured eight Democratic candidates.

“[T]he clearest and strongest candidate was Elizabeth Warren,” Houston resident Dominique Davis told CNN. “I say that because I liked her thoughts on attacking the mortality rates for women of color. She had a plan, which was very important to me. The best candidate will be someone who has a clear plan. They don’t have to have all the answers, but have a plan.”

Warren has received positive reviews for her appearances at CNN town halls on the campus of Jackson State University, a historically black college in Mississippi, and at Harvard, where Warren has taught as a law professor. Warren still lags in most polling, a topic she touched on during her She the People discussion when asked about concerns that primary voters might be afraid a woman wouldn’t be a strong candidate against Trump.

“Are we not going to fight because we’re afraid?” she asked. “Are we going to show up for people that we didn’t actually believe in, because we were afraid to do anything else? That’s not who we are. We’ve got a room full of people here who weren’t given anything.”

... Bernie? Not so much.

Appearing at the same She The People forum, Bernie Sanders was heckled by several audience members while he recalled participating in the March on Washington in 1963 and hearing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

At a rally in Fort Worth the next day, Sanders campaign senior adviser Nina Turner excoriated those who dared to boo the Vermont senator.

“In what world, when you are sitting on the stage telling folks about your history, and you mention the fact that you were at the March on Washington with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?” Turner asked. “In what world do people boo that?”

“That happened to Senator Sanders yesterday, and I’m calling it out,” she continued. “In what world? You don’t boo folks for that. And I don’t care if it was somebody who I didn’t care about their policies, if they stood up with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other heroes and sheroes, we need to shout that out.”

More white dudes

On April 3, there were zero sitting white congressmen in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination. There were two former male representatives (Beto O’Rourke of Texas and John Delaney of Maryland) and a sitting congresswoman (Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii), but no men currently serving in the House. There are now three, with Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio joining on April 4, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California entering on April 8 and Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts officially declaring on April 22.

The three have a lot of ground to make up in the large, diverse field where many contestants have been officially raising money and building donor lists for months. Ryan, who unsuccessfully challenged Nancy Pelosi for the party’s caucus leadership after the 2016 election, is focusing on green manufacturing jobs. Swalwell is running on a platform of gun safety, earning the backing of some of the Parkland, Fla., students who became activists after the mass shooting at their school last year. Moulton, a former Marine, tried and failed to block Pelosi from becoming speaker of the House in the current Congress. He is running a campaign based “in service, in security and in patriotism.”

If one of the three were to succeed, he would become only the second-ever sitting House member to ascend to the White House, since James Garfield in 1880.

Trump’s Twitter summit

Earlier this week, President Trump met with Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey in the Oval Office. While the meeting was supposed to be about the social media network’s efforts to fight opioid abuse, the Washington Post reported that “a significant portion of the meeting focused on Trump’s concerns that Twitter has quietly and deliberately limited or removed some of his followers.”

Dorsey explained to the president that the number of followers fluctuates due to the company’s attempts to delete spam accounts and bots, per the paper. The White House essentially confirmed the Post’s reporting the next day.

“They had a very productive conversation about keeping the media platforms open for 2020,” said adviser Kellyanne Conway Wednesday morning. “The president is very concerned about what he sees as losing followers or people being blocked for certain actions. That’s obvious.”

Trump, who has nearly 60 million followers on the service, complained about losing followers back in October after Twitter purged a number of suspended accounts, resulting in a decline of followers across the political spectrum, with Trump losing 200,000 and former President Barack Obama losing 2 million.

Obama has 106 million followers as of today. According to the Daily Beast, Trump has repeatedly complained that the former president “has had more Twitter followers than he has.”

“I’m going to be very restrained, if I use it at all.”

— President-elect Donald Trump, Nov. 12, 2016, on his use of Twitter

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