Melania Trump touts immigrant roots in keynote GOP speech

Brittany Shepherd
·National Politics Reporter

First lady Melania Trump delivered one of the longest and most personal speeches of her career Tuesday night, using her keynote address to strike a personal note and deviate from the Republican National Convention’s more partisan attacks.

Among other things, she spoke freely about her immigration from Slovenia, a small country that split from Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

“Growing up as a young child in Slovenia, which was under communist rule at the time, I always heard about an amazing place called America, a place that stands for freedom and opportunity,” Trump said, speaking from the recently renovated White House Rose Garden with her husband in the audience.

"As an immigrant and a very independent woman, I understand what a privilege it is to live here and to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we have,” she added.

The soft rhetoric about immigration marked the end point of a day in which Republicans painted a more moderate stance on the issue than President Trump has embraced while in office. Earlier Tuesday, the GOP convention featured a naturalization ceremony personally hosted by Trump, whose policies have significantly reduced both illegal and legal immigration. As a candidate and as president, Trump has frequently used caustic rhetoric to describe immigrants and their motives for coming to the U.S.

Melania Trump speaks during the virtual Republican National Convention on August 25, 2020. (via Reuters TV)
First lady Melania Trump speaks during the Republican National Convention on Tuesday. (via Reuters TV)

Melania Trump’s Tuesday night speech at the Republican National Convention also marked one of her first campaign-trail appearances since 2016, a reflection of the subdued campaign environment during the coronavirus crisis and her preference for avoiding the political spotlight.

She began her speech with a direct offer of condolences to Americans killed by the COVID-19 pandemic — a topic that the GOP convention repeatedly sought to depict in optimistic terms. More than 178,000 people in the U.S. have died due to the virus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

"My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one, and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering,” she said. “I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone. Donald will not rest until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic.”

Her speech at the Republican convention four years ago was marred by a plagiarism scandal, since much of her delivered address mirrored one previously given by then-first lady Michelle Obama. An aide took the blame and apologized.

This time around, Melania Trump guarded her speech closely, relying only on a handful of women aides, according to reports from CNN and the Washington Post. Her longtime aide (and former White House press secretary) Stephanie Grisham, along with departing White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, reportedly helped tinker with the remarks in the final hours.

First lady Melania Trump speaks on the second night of the convention from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Melania Trump speaks from the Rose Garden of the White House on the second night of the GOP convention. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Melania Trump also used the speech to humanize her husband, who is set to deliver his formal renomination speech Thursday night, just a little over two months from Election Day and lagging in polls compared to Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Speaking of Trump, she said he “has built an administration with an unprecedented number of women in leadership roles. I know I speak for my husband and the family when I say we are so grateful that you have trusted him to be your president, and we would be so honored to serve this incredible country for four more years.”

Melania and Donald Trump aren’t the only Trumps to speak at the Republican National Convention. Ivanka, Eric, Don Jr. and Tiffany — the adult children of Trump’s first and second wives — all have official roles at the GOP event.

Trump did not mention her 13-year-old son, Barron, who also maintains a private profile at the White House.

As first lady, Melania Trump helms the “Be Best” initiative to protect children from cyberbullying and drug abuse. While she has made public appearances on behalf of the initiative, Be Best has been largely obscured by palace intrigue, staffing turnover and the president’s constant online attacks against his foes.

"Helping children is not a political goal," she said of the initiative. "It is our moral imperative."

President Donald Trump joins first lady Melania Trump on stage after her speech to the 2020 Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Trump joins first lady Melania Trump onstage. (Evan Vucci/AP)

She also spoke of the importance of treating mental health, especially with the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the stigma is removed, people will no longer have to ask for help, she said, adding: “If you're struggling with addiction, there is no shame in it. Please seek help yourself.”

Despite Melania Trump’s somewhat private portfolio, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro nevertheless said earlier on Tuesday that Melania Trump is the “Jackie Kennedy of her time,” praising the "beauty, the elegance, the soft-spokenness" of the model turned first lady. Her husband retweeted the quote shortly before the convention kicked off that night.

"Donald is a husband who supports me in all that I do," the first lady said in her speech. "We need my husband to be our president and commander in chief for four more years."

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