Administration

Trump positive test roils White House, presidential campaign

News that President Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus shook Washington and resonated around the world on Friday, provoking concern about the president’s health and raising questions about the continuity of government with the 2020 election only one month away.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said the president is experiencing “mild symptoms” from the virus and that contingency plans are in place to ensure the government continues to function while the president is in quarantine.

Trump has not appeared on-camera since the news of his positive test broke early Friday morning.

“I fully expect that, as this virus continues to go on, other people in the White House will certainly have a positive test result, and we’ve got the mitigation plan in place to make sure the government not only continues to move forward but the work of the American people continues to move forward,” Meadows said.

First lady Melania Trump, White House senior adviser Hope Hicks and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel have also been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Hicks’s case was revealed late Thursday, preceding news of President Trump’s diagnosis. The White House learned of her positive test before the president departed for a fundraiser in Bedminster, N.J., on Thursday afternoon.

Vice President Pence and second lady Karen Pence have tested negative. 

The 25th Amendment stipulates that Trump could assign the powers of the presidency over to Pence if he were to become incapacitated.

The coronavirus has been deadliest for seniors and those with preexisting respiratory conditions. Trump is 74 years of age and overweight, factors that place him in a high-risk category for falling ill from the virus. 

On Tuesday night, Trump shared the debate stage with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who is 77 years old.

Biden will be tested on Friday. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), has tested negative. 

Others who have been in close contact with the president in recent days have tested negative, including Meadows and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, as well as daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, both senior White House advisers.

The president is expected to continue working in some capacity while in quarantine. He has a phone call scheduled for Friday afternoon on providing COVID-19 support to vulnerable seniors. 

Trump canceled a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., and a campaign rally in Sanford, Fla., that had been scheduled for Friday. 

White House officials have said the president is “energetic” and that they expect a full recovery. 

However, there are deep wells of distrust between this administration and the news media, including with respect to the president’s health. 

Past administrations have routinely sought to talk down the severity of health crises presidents have faced.

The New York Times reported that the president appeared lethargic at a Thursday fundraiser and that he fell asleep on the airplane ride back from a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday night.

The diagnosis also draws attention to the president’s own handling of the pandemic.

Trump has repeatedly sought to talk down the severity of the virus, pushed to swiftly reopen the economy and has underplayed the importance of wearing masks while holding large campaign rallies. During a prerecorded speech to a Catholic charity dinner Thursday, Trump declared that “end of the pandemic is in sight.” 

Across town on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the president’s diagnosis “underscores that the coronavirus is not concerned about the American election and that’s it not going away until we get a vaccine.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she’s hopeful the news will ignite an urgency in Congress to “crush” the deadly virus.

“Maybe now that people who see the president of the United States with all the protection that he has, and the first lady, still having this exposure, it might be … a learning experience,” Pelosi said. “But more than learning, it has to be something that is acted upon.”

The political implications of the diagnosis could not be ignored with only 32 days to go before the election, which has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump trails badly against Biden in the polls and some Republicans are beginning to worry about a landslide loss that also costs the GOP their majority in the Senate.

The president is fresh off a debate that set off alarm bells for many Republicans given Trump’s frequent interruptions of Biden and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. The next debate with Biden is scheduled to be a town hall event with voters on Oct. 15.

Republicans reached by The Hill on Friday morning said they were hopeful the nation would rally around the president as he recovers.

But the electoral clock was already working against Trump, and now he will be pulled off the campaign trail for at least the better part of two weeks as he recovers.  Sources close to the Biden campaign told The Hill there are no plans for him to scale back his campaign activities for as long as he and those around him continue to test negative for COVID-19. 

William Howell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, said there would be immediate implications for the already volatile presidential campaign. 

“He obviously can’t do his rallies. We should expect the next debate to be canceled. There are going to be natural questions about his cavalier attitude towards this pandemic and what this means for his own kind of reckless behavior,” Howell said. “On the other hand, there will be many people — as we should be — worried about the president’s health.” 

The stock markets were rattled by the news of Trump’s positive case on Friday. Howell also noted that the developments would create uncertainty for foreign governments and potentially help drive conspiracy theories in the U.S. 

Amie Parnes contributed.

Tags Chris Wallace Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Hope Hicks Ivanka Trump Jared Kushner Joe Biden Kamala Harris Karen Pence Mark Meadows Melania Trump Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Presidential Debate Ronna McDaniel

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