Trump Tests Positive for Covid, Roiling Campaign and White House
U.S. President Donald Trump said early Friday that he has tested positive for coronavirus along with his wife and one of his closest aides, throwing an already volatile campaign into deeper disarray just one month before the election.
“Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!,” the president said on Twitter, hours after Bloomberg News reported that the adviser, Hope Hicks, had fallen ill with the virus.
The election campaign of Democrat Joe Biden has focused heavily on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which has already killed more than 200,000 Americans and deepened inequalities. Biden and others have criticized Trump’s response as slow and ineffective.
Biden was expected to be tested for the virus on Friday, according to a person familiar with his campaign’s plans. The two shared a stage Tuesday at the presidential debate in Cleveland, where few if any in Trump’s entourage wore masks. Biden’s campaign has not yet made a decision about whether he will travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan on Friday for a scheduled campaign trip.
Trump is able to rest and work in the White House residence, people familiar with the matter said.
The White House already announced that Trump was canceling all public events, including a rally in Florida, on Friday. Normal virus protocols could keep him off the campaign trail at least 10 days and possibly longer at a critical moment when he was trying to gain ground on Biden, who polls show is holding steady with about a 7 percentage-point lead nationally.
In addition, the announcement could complicate plans for a confirmation hearing and vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, though as of early Friday there had been no change in the schedule that would start hearings the week of Oct. 12. It was also unknown what effect the development could have on negotiations over an economic stimulus package to counter the fallout from the virus, as House Democrats and the White House remained far apart.
It wasn’t immediately clear how Trump contracted the virus. Hicks tested positive after flying aboard Air Force One to the presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday and to a campaign rally in Minnesota on Wednesday.
Senior aides on Thursday discussed scenarios for how to handle both governing and campaigning if Trump tested positive, according to people familiar with the situation. Other White House aides learned the news of Trump’s illness when they awoke Friday morning.
Only a very small circle of people knew that Hicks had tested positive, and senior staff had hoped to keep that information private, two of the people said.
“Wishing President @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS Melania Trump a speedy recovery,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tweeted early Friday.
U.S. stock futures fell more than 1% early Friday, and Treasuries rose as traders braced for more volatility. Even before Trump tested positive, markets -- from stocks to currencies and bonds -- had been pricing in the likelihood of turbulence on Election Day and the ensuing weeks. Now, with Trump’s health in doubt, investors are warning that the prolonged uncertainty and political chaos could become an even bigger risk for markets.
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In a memo released early Friday morning, Trump’s physician said that the president and first lady plan to remain at the White House “during their convalescence” and that the medical unit would “maintain a vigilant watch.”
“Rest assured I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering, and I will keep you updated on any future developments,” White House physician Sean Conley said.
Some of Trump’s closest aides said they sensed on Wednesday that Trump was feeling poorly but they chalked it up to fatigue from an intense campaign schedule. The president seemed exhausted, one person familiar with the situation said.
If Trump were to become incapacitated, the 25th Amendment that allows for the vice president to take over would apply.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said contact tracing for Trump and First Lady Melania Trump was being carried out and “the appropriate notifications and recommendations will be made.” Contact tracing for Hicks, he added, was already complete.
In a tweet, the first lady said that she and her husband “are feeling good & I have postponed all upcoming engagements. Please be sure you are staying safe & we will all get through this together.”
“We spent a lot of time with Hope and others. So we’ll see what happens,” Trump said during the Fox interview with Sean Hannity.
Several other members of Trump’s circle tested positive for the virus earlier this year -- including National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
His aides had worried that Trump’s lack of sleep during the final stretch of the presidential campaign could leave him especially vulnerable to infection. The president did not return to the White House until after midnight following his Tuesday and Wednesday trips. His age also puts him at greater risk for serious illness from the virus.
The development, while a source of concern for Americans, will make it harder for the president to continue trying to shift attention away from the virus and focus on his prized campaign issues, like accusing Democrats of promoting a ruinous socialist agenda and allowing U.S. cities to be overrun by violent protesters.
Trump has sought to diminish the significance of the virus amid surveys showing a majority of Americans disapprove of his handling of the pandemic, which he has said would simply “disappear.” Trump has pushed for states to reopen their economies even as caseloads have surged.
The president, who initially downplayed the importance of wearing masks and later endorsed their use, has seldom worn a face covering in public and also hasn’t followed recommendations about staying six feet away from others. The White House has said those precautions aren’t needed for Trump because people allowed in close proximity are tested for the virus.
Trump has said he had no regrets about his response to the pandemic, and argued that he “up-played it in terms of action” even though he told journalist Bob Woodward in a taped conversation that he downplayed the threat it posed in order to avoid scaring Americans. He again cast doubt on whether masks effectively prevent transmission of the virus.
“A lot of people don’t want to wear masks. There are a lot of people think that masks are not good,” Trump said in a Sept. 15 town hall event with ABC News.
The president also has repeatedly hosted events where audience members didn’t wear masks or maintain distance from one another.
He held his first indoor campaign rally in months on Sept. 13 at a manufacturing plant in Las Vegas, flouting a Nevada order banning indoor gatherings of 50 or more people or more.
“I’m on stage, and it’s very far away,” Trump said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, defending his decision to speak to thousands of supporters, few of whom wore masks or practiced social distancing. He spoke at a similar indoor gathering in Arizona the next day.
Days later, Trump spoke in front of hundreds of people on the South Lawn of the White House at a signing ceremony for diplomatic accords between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel. Few of the attendees were tested for Covid-19.
Trump on Aug. 27 appeared before a crowd of roughly 1,500 people on the South Lawn to accept the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Though the Trump campaign said it followed “strict” safety protocols, the District of Columbia bans gatherings larger than 50 people. Few people in the crowd wore masks and White House officials said some, but not all, attendees were tested for Covid-19.
The president in late July began to publicly encourage Americans to wear masks if they cannot maintain social distance and avoid risky behavior, after months of casting doubt on public-health recommendations and promoting unproven treatments.
In May, for instance, he said he took the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure, days after Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary tested positive for the virus. The Food and Drug Administration revoked emergency approval for the drug as a Covid-19 treatment a month later, citing a lack of effectiveness and harmful potential side effects.
Trump also joins other world leaders who have tested positive for the virus, including Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez. All of them survived, though Johnson became seriously ill.
“My best wishes to President Trump and the First Lady,” Johnson tweeted on Friday. “Hope they both have a speedy recovery from coronavirus.”
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