Awaking at home Tuesday after a weekend spent in hospital, President Donald Trump offered no indication his serious bout with coronavirus had altered his perceptions of a disease that has killed more than 210,000 Americans and is now ripping through his staff.
Nor did he signal any fresh understanding of Americans’ economic pain, announcing Tuesday afternoon he had instructed his team to cease all negotiations on a new stimulus package despite continued furloughs and layoffs. The move caused the stock market to plummet and puzzled senior Republicans, who saw little upside to publicly scrapping the talks.
The picture emerging was of a President whose own brush with the illness has changed little about his approach. As at least three additional staffers were revealed to have tested positive on Tuesday – including senior adviser Stephen Miller – Trump remained in denial about the health and economic fallout.
It was an unusual political strategy for a candidate who has received low marks for his handling of the pandemic and who has struggled to demonstrate empathy for the millions of Americans adversely affected by it.
Instead of dwelling on the issue, Trump signaled he was itching for a return to the campaign trail – even though the virus is ravaging his staff – as he mulled delivering an address to the nation, perhaps as early as later in the day.
“I anticipate you will hear from him at some point today,” communications director Alyssa Farah – one of the few aides who arrived to work in person on Tuesday – told reporters at the White House.
Trump recorded a video message at the White House on Tuesday evening. The release was thought to be for Tuesday night, but it was unclear when the White House or the President would release the video remarks. The themes were similar to those of the video Trump recorded Monday night, a person familiar with the taping told CNN.
The atmosphere inside the White House was described by one official as “chaotic,” largely because many people were working remotely and the President was calling the shots.
More than a dozen members of Trump’s circle have tested positive in recent days, including his wife, senior adviser, press secretary, campaign manager, former counselor, personal assistant, four press aides, three Republican senators and, over the weekend, a member of the military who directly serves the President in the Oval Office and residence.
Miller, Trump’s immigration adviser and speechwriter, said he tested positive Tuesday and was entering isolation. He is one of several people who had helped Trump prepare for last week’s presidential debate who have now tested positive, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The top US general, Gen. Mark Milley, and several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were also quarantining after a top Coast Guard official tested positive for coronavirus, several US defense officials told CNN.
With the West Wing largely vacant because staffers keep testing positive, Trump was isolating in the White House residence, where temporary office facilities have been stood up adjacent to the building’s basement medical suite.
Just as he did inside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Trump has focused intently on the presidential campaign, which culminates in less than a month. He received bad news on Tuesday when a CNN poll conducted by SSRS showed him trailing rival Joe Biden by 16 points, the widest margin of the race so far.
“Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!! The Fake News only shows the Fake Polls,” Trump wrote afterward. It remained unclear what Trump’s return to the trail might look like; the lingering effects of Covid can leave patients exhausted for months and it wasn’t clear what appetite remains for large mask-less rallies after Trump and his inner-circle all contracted the virus.
Later in the day, Trump ordered his negotiators to halt negotiations over a new stimulus package, which had proceeded slowly over the past weeks.
“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump wrote.
Trump tweeted shortly after a private conference call with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the administration’s top negotiator.
The decision to pull the plug on the talks is a major blow to Americans still struggling with the fallout from the once-in-a-century pandemic and endangers an economic recovery that for months was driven by the initial $2.2 trillion stimulus passed by Congress in the spring. With that money largely spent and gone, economists have warned more support is imperative in the months ahead.
Doctors were continuing to monitor Trump’s vital signs on Tuesday and he was expected to receive an intravenous dose of the antiviral remdesivir on Tuesday evening. His physicians had revealed over the weekend that Trump’s oxygen levels dropped worrying low and that he had required supplemental oxygen.
The President met with a “team of physicians” at the residence on Tuesday morning after a “restful first night at home,” a statement from his physician Dr. Sean Conley read. “Vital signs and physical exam remain stable, with an ambulatory oxygen saturation level of 95-97%.”
“Overall he continues to do extremely well,” Conley added. “I will provide updates as we know more.”
Unlike the previous three days, were no briefings scheduled from Conley on Tuesday. He has repeatedly refused to answer questions about when Trump last tested negative, how high his fever became or the results of his lung scan, which he would only say were “expected.”
Trump appeared to be breathing with some difficulty on Monday evening after he mounted the South Portico steps to pose for cameras while saluting his Marine One helicopter. A White House official and a separate source close to the White House said there remain lingering health concerns, even after Trump returned home.
“He may not entirely be out of the woods yet,” Conley, told reporters at Walter Reed on Monday.
Nevertheless, the President has been active on Twitter, declaring he would be attending next week’s presidential debate in Miami, despite his still-uncertain prognosis and the potential he could still be contagious by then.
“FEELING GREAT!” he wrote in another tweet.
And as he did at the very beginning of the pandemic, Trump compared coronavirus to the flu, minimizing its risks and suggesting the country would need to learn to live with them.
“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu,” he wrote, echoing claims he made last spring that were almost immediately shot down by health experts, who say seasonal influenza is less deadly than coronavirus.
“Are we going to close down our Country?” he added. “No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”
It was a striking message for a man who, 48 hours earlier, declared he now “understood” the virus after contracting it and suffering some of its more serious symptoms.
It provided a good idea of what Trump’s message might be should he decide to address the nation, a prospect which is being seriously considered, according to a White House official.
“He certainly does want to address the nation at some point. But in terms of timing of that, certainly no plans as of today, but I think they’re always fast moving so should that change, we’ll be sure to let you know,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said during an appearance on Fox Business. She phoned into the network from home, where she is convalescing after a coronavirus diagnosis.
When Trump returned to the White House on Monday, he posed for the photo-op on the South Portico after peeling off his mask and stuffing it into his pocket.
In a video taped afterward, he said the disease was nothing to worry about.
“Don’t be afraid of it,” Trump said of coronavirus. “You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines.”
The message was received poorly by medical experts and even some of Trump’s allies, who wondered why he was continuing to downplay a virus that required him to be airlifted from the White House to a hospital.
“I think he let his guard down, and I think in his desire to try to demonstrate that we are somehow coming out of this and that the danger is not still with us – I think he got out over his skis,” Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect the staffer who tested positive is military personnel directly assigned to support the President in the Oval Office and residence.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Jeff Zeleny, Barbara Starr, Joe Johns, Betsy Klein, Manu Raju, Peter Morris and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.