US President Donald Trump made his first public appearance on Saturday since returning from a three-day coronavirus hospitalization, telling supporters assembled on the White House’s South Lawn that “through the power of American science and medicine, we will eradicate the China Virus once and for all.”
“I want to thank you all for the prayers,” Trump said from a White House balcony before hundreds of invited guests.
The appearance was designed to show the president — who declared he’s “feeling great” — has recovered from Covid-19 and is ready to resume work and his race against Democratic nominee Joe Biden. But the president appeared without certification from his doctors that he’s no longer contagious with the deadly virus, and despite the White House not releasing a formal update on his recovery since Thursday.
Still, the president sat for at least three hours of radio and remote television interviews with conservative media personalities on Friday, and is expected to resume a heavy campaign travel schedule this week with rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa. Trump has been itching to return to public events following his battle with the coronavirus, aides say — an impatience only heightened by the president falling further behind Biden in polls.
Still, Saturday’s event risks deepening concern among voters about Trump’s handling of a pandemic that has left more than two dozen of his close associates infected and more than 210,000 Americans dead.
After the president’s last outdoor event — a Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony to announce his pick of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court — at least 11 attendees tested positive for coronavirus. While the White House had a testing regime in place to screen for virus cases, few guests wore masks and attendees mingled and sat in close proximity to one another both indoors and outdoors.
Trump’s physician said Wednesday that the president had been free of symptoms for the previous 24 hours. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump “will be clear to go” on Saturday, when “he wants to talk to the American people.” There are medical tests underway to ensure he doesn’t transmit the virus when he returns to the campaign trail, she said on Fox News, adding that she’d conferred with White House doctor Sean Conley. McEnany, who herself has tested positive for Covid-19, is working remotely.
On Saturday, White House guests were required to bring masks with them and wear them on the grounds, a person familiar with the matter said, adding that they also have to undergo a Covid-19 screening on Saturday morning that will include a temperature check and a brief questionnaire. But those rules were put in place not by the White House but by the organizer of the event, the Blexit group, led by Candace Owens, a Trump ally, the person said.
Trump’s first trip outside of D.C. will be to Orlando on Monday, where he’s expected to hold an outdoor airport hanger rally. He’ll follow that on Tuesday with a rally at an airport outside of Pittsburgh, and a similar event Wednesday in Des Moines. His campaign is negotiating a town hall on network television on Thursday, according to CNN.
Trump’s challenge to win over voters has only intensified in recent days. His vacillations on a stimulus bill and second presidential debate have fed a developing narrative that he’s flailing as a second term slips from his grasp.
Earlier in the week, Trump -– to the dismay of fellow Republicans — said he was cutting off talks on an additional coronavirus stimulus bill, only to rapidly reverse course after the announcement rocked markets.
But subsequent days saw a flurry of different and often contradictory statements from the White House. First, officials said they would resume talks — but only on standalone bills to bolster the airline industry and small businesses.
Then Trump said not only did he want a sweeping bill, but was open to levels beyond even what Democrats had proposed. By Friday afternoon, the administration was preparing a proposal for a $1.8 trillion deal that fell below what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has described as her floor, but exceeded levels Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said would be acceptable. Both House Democrats and Senate Republicans expressed skepticism over the proposal earlier Saturday.
Trump and his campaign team — which, like the White House staff, has suffered coronavirus infections at the highest levels — are searching for ways to reverse the president’s slide in polls.
Trump pulled out of the second debate because the bipartisan commission organizing the event said it would be held virtually following his diagnosis. Trump’s efforts to force the debate commission to reverse course or reschedule the remaining debates fell flat. As a result, Trump will either be deprived of one of the final marquee opportunities to reach voters before Election Day or forced to publicly reverse himself.
That’s left the president eager to return to the campaign trail, with hopes that his signature rallies can offer him a chance to reconnect with voters and rekindle enthusiasm for his candidacy.
The president told Fox News host Sean Hannity that his team was looking to organize a rally Saturday night in Florida — the earliest possible date his medical team said he might be able to resume public appearances — and a second event Sunday in Pennsylvania.
White House aides said logistical challenges prevented organizing such events on short notice. But the president also acknowledged Friday he’s still experiencing some symptoms from his brush with coronavirus. Trump was seen struggling to catch his breath after walking a flight of stairs during his return from the hospital on Monday, and occasionally lost his voice during his interview with Hannity on Thursday.
Still, Trump sought to underscore his health Friday through his marathon of interviews with conservative media figures.
That included a two-hour uninterrupted conversation on Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated radio show. On that program, Trump ranked Fox News hosts by how favorable they were to him personally, expressed alarm that Attorney General Bill Barr might not release the findings of a politically charged investigation into the origins of its Russia probe and delivered an expletive-charged warning to Iran.
Trump followed that up with several more interviews, including an appearance on Mark Levin’s talk show. The president is expected to be interviewed again Sunday morning by Fox Business Network.
“I feel really good, I feel very strong, I know a lot of people who have had the Covid—or the China virus as I call it because it came from China,” the president said in an interview on Fox News Friday. “But I feel really, really strong and a lot of people don’t feel that way sometimes for a while afterwards.”