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'People Are Anxious': Melania Trump Takes On Pandemic, Protests In RNC Speech

Follow live coverage of the RNC all week at NPR.org/conventions.

Addressing the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, first lady Melania Trump made the case that President Trump is determined to work hard to improve the country in a second term.

In her 25-minute keynote outside the White House, she directly addressed two of the biggest political crises facing her husband as he campaigns for a second term — the coronavirus pandemic and protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

She started her longest speech as first lady by expressing sympathy for people who lost loved ones to COVID-19 or are suffering from the virus, acknowledging that "many people are anxious." That stood in contrast to many other convention speakers, who sidestepped the pandemic or sought to put the crisis in the past tense.

And she urged Americans to come together in difficult times, to reflect on racism and learn from it, without casting recent protests in overtly political terms. "It is a harsh reality that we are not proud of parts of our history," she said. "Stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice."

In 2016, Melania Trump spoke for about 15 minutes at the Republican National Convention — a speech that was initially well received but was soon criticized because some lines were plagiarized from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech.

This time around, she spoke in front of about 100 guests, including White House officials and members of Trump's Cabinet in the Rose Garden, which was recently refurbished. Afterward, guests mingled and took selfies, many eschewing coronavirus prevention measures like social distancing and mask-wearing.

As first lady, she has been seldom seen, and less often heard. She has focused her public work on the opioid epidemic and on children — visiting them in hospitals and schools, and famously, in detention facilities at the border with Mexico after they had been separated from their migrant parents.

Speaking directly into the camera to "mothers of this country," she said she shared their concerns about social media and the use of technology.

Her "Be Best" campaign has urged people to treat each other kindly, especially online — an initiative she has acknowledged sparked skepticism because of her husband's proclivity to lash out at critics on Twitter and assign mean nicknames for his opponents in raucous rallies.

Trump, whose husband's polling has suffered with suburban women, tried to cast him as a rough-around-the-edges truth-teller who delivered "total honesty."

"Whether you like it or not, you always know what he's thinking," she said.

While she avoided criticizing her husband's political opponents, she did not hold back from criticizing the media for "gossip" and "false headlines" — stopping just short of using the president's favorite "fake news" insult.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Roberta Rampton is NPR's White House editor. She joined the Washington Desk in October 2019 after spending more than six years as a White House correspondent for Reuters. Rampton traveled around America and to more than 20 countries covering President Trump, President Obama and their vice presidents, reporting on a broad range of political, economic and foreign policy topics. Earlier in her career, Rampton covered energy and agriculture policy.