President Donald Trump made his first public appearance on Saturday since returning from a three-day hospitalization for coronavirus, telling supporters at the White House that “through the power of American science and medicine, we will eradicate” the virus “once and for all.”
“Thank you all for the prayers,” Trump said from the Blue Room balcony at the White House to hundreds of invited guests at a campaign-style event on the South Lawn.
Trump arrived wearing a mask and removed it before speaking. Attendees appeared to be mostly masked but were standing close together with no suggestion of social distancing. Hand sanitizer stations and a medical tent were nearby.
Trump’s comments touched on several of his usual stump-speech topics, including suggestions of voter fraud. The remarks ran for about 18 minutes, much shorter than Trump’s typical freewheeling campaign speeches.
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.
Close-up photographs on Saturday showed flesh-colored bandages on Trump’s right hand, potentially from where he received intravenous treatment after his Covid diagnosis.
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while arriving to speak from the Truman Balcony of the White House on Oct. 10.
Photographer: Erin Scott/Bloomberg
Trump’s event at the White House was criticized on social media for being a potential violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of taxpayer money for political campaigning. As president, Trump is exempt from the regulation.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the gathering of mostly Black and Hispanic supporters was “an official event” and that no campaign staff had been involved.
Trump 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.
Saturday’s event risked 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.
Saturday’s White House guests were required to bring their own masks onto the property and to wear them throughout the event, a person familiar with the matter said. They were due to undergo a Covid-19 screening on Saturday morning 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 Trump ally Candace Owens, 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 hangar rally. He’ll follow that on Tuesday with a rally at an airport outside of Pittsburgh, and a similar event Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. 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.
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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 also acknowledged Friday he’s still experiencing some symptoms from his brush with coronavirus. Trump, 74, was seen struggling to catch his breath after walking a flight of stairs during his return from the hospital on Monday, and occasionally needed to clear his throat 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.”
(Updates with Trump spokesman in seventh paragraph.)
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