By JORDYN PHELPS, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — After days of public silence on the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it remained unclear Thursday afternoon whether President Donald Trump would directly address the shooting in his nomination acceptance speech Thursday night.
During an interview Thursday morning, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh strongly suggested the president would directly address the latest incident involving police treatment of an unarmed black man before later appearing to walk back his comments.
“I think he will,” Tim Murtaugh said, when asked on CNN if the president would speak directly about the Blake shooting, which has set off a week of deadly protests, in his address to the Republican National Convention. “He’ll talk about what happened in Wisconsin and I think he’ll broaden it and talk with what we’ve seen in cities and states all around the country in the last couple of months.”
Later, when asked whether Trump would specifically mention Jacob Blake, Murtaugh declined to elaborate.
“I’m not going to get into very much in the way of specifics about what the president will talk about as far as specific topics, but the president will address the unrest in this country. He will make reference to Kenosha, and he will speak about the issue,” Murtaugh told ABC News.
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel told the ABC News Powerhouse Politics podcast Thursday that she hoped Blake’s name comes up in convention speeches Thursday night, although she didn’t single out Trump’s speech.
“Of course, we can make mention of Jacob Blake’s name and the president has reached out to the family,” McDaniel told ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl. “I hope that they do tonight. I think a lot of it has been pre-taped … because of the virtual nature of many of the speeches, that wasn’t in the news at the time that some of those speeches were taped. I’m saying right now as party chair we want to see this investigated; we want to see this seen through.”
Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, remains hospitalized in serious condition after he was shot repeatedly by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday.
It’s become the latest flashpoint in months of national outrage over racial profiling and the use of force in policing. On the third day of protests, authorities say three people were shot and two killed. Authorities investigating social media accounts associated with the name of the alleged gunman have found references of support for President Trump.
The president’s campaign has condemned the incident and distanced him from the alleged gunman.
Trump was expected to hit on familiar themes in his speech Thursday night, according to his campaign, targeting Democratic nominee Joe Biden on a slew of topics including borders, taxes, energy policy, trade, China and crime, according to Trump campaign aides.
Trump’s campaign said the president would argue that Biden has embraced an “extreme” agenda, a line of attack the president has struggled with against a candidate widely viewed as more moderate than his Democratic primary opponents.
”The Republican Party goes forward united, determined, and ready to welcome millions of Democrats, independents, and anyone who believes in the greatness of America and the righteous heart of the American people,” Trump was expected to say, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the campaign.
The president’s public commentary on the events in Kenosha since Blake’s shooting have been limited to the need to restore “law and order” — and Murtaugh said that will remain his main focus going forward.
“The president is determined that law and order be restored and so that we can all enjoy peace and prosperity as Americans. That’s the president’s main focus on those those things,” he told CNN.
On previous nights of the convention this week, speakers have largely avoided and have instead stuck to the administration’s familiar law and order theme.
Vice President Mike Pence, in his remarks to the convention last night, did not make a direct mention of Blake’s shooting but did make reference to the unrest in Kenosha that has followed, framing it in a call for an end to violence.
“The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha, too many heroes have died defending our freedom to see Americans strike each other down. We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color,” Pence said.
Pence said that while he and the president support “peaceful protest,” he drew a distinction in condemning “rioting and looting.” But in recent months, as protests have gripped the nation, the president has frequently used broad brush strokes in painting the broader, largely peaceful protest movement for racial equality as violent and unruly.
In addition to the events in Kenosha, the president will also be doing something of a juggling act Thursday night as he participates in the celebratory events of the convention’s closing night from the White House South Lawn, complete with an expected fireworks display, near the Washington Monument, while Hurricane Laura continues to cause ruin in Louisiana and Texas as it moves inland.
Prior to Thursday night’s festivities, the president is set to travel to FEMA headquarters in Washington to receive an update on the storm.
The president’s trip to FEMA will offer an opportunity for Trump to make a show of presidential leadership ahead of his convention speech, while the storm also presents the challenge of a discordant contrast with the night’s celebration.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has issued a statement saying the president is receiving “regular updates” and expresses the president’s commitment to aiding the affected communities.
The president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, providing a broad preview of the president’s acceptance speech in an interview with CNBC Thursday, said the president will offer a “hopeful” vision for America.
“Tonight, what you’re going to hear from President Trump is a very hopeful vision for America. He’s very proud of this country he believes that this country has incredible room to grow coming out of this pandemic. He believes he can build it to be stronger than it’s ever been before.”
ABC News’ Will Steakin and Terrance Smith contributed to this report.
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