President Donald Trump will emerge from his Covid-forced isolation Saturday for a speech from a White House balcony, according to a White House official, allowing the public its first independent glimpse in days of a leader recovering from coronavirus.
Two thousand guests have been invited to the White House, according to a person familiar with the event, despite concerns about a late September ceremony in the Rose Garden that may have acted as the nexus for a viral outbreak that has ripped through Trump’s staff.
This time, Trump will not be close to attendees. But the prospect of hosting another large gathering, even if not all 2,000 invitees do attend, as the contagion spreads has already generated concerns among some of Trump’s aides.
A source with knowledge of the planning says attendees must bring masks and will be subject to temperature checks.
He is also now scheduled to hold a campaign rally in Florida on Monday evening. The event will take place in a airport hangar in Sanford outside Orlando.
Since returning to the White House on Monday evening, Trump has not been seen in public. In a series of lengthy phone interviews, he said he is ready to end his Covid isolation and emerge onto the campaign trail, despite little clarity about his condition, no independent view of his physical state and warnings from health experts he is likely still shedding the virus.
In an interview with Fox News that aired Friday night, Trump said he has been retested for coronavirus but does not have the results yet.
“I have been retested and I haven’t even found out numbers or anything yet, but I’ve been retested and I know I’m at either the bottom of the scale or free,” Trump said, adding that he is no longer taking any medication to fight coronavirus.
Anguished over his badly weakened political standing weeks before the election, Trump has implored aides and his medical team to clear him for a return to campaigning. He said on Thursday he was planning rallies as early as Saturday, though aides downplayed the prospect of arranging an event so quickly and said there is currently no travel planned at the moment for this weekend.
Instead, the South Lawn event was scheduled as an outlet for the President to speak to his supporters and show the country he is well enough to resume campaigning. The choice by the White House is striking given the last large event they hosted, the Rose Garden ceremony announcing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, has been linked to multiple Covid-19 infections.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist, on Friday called the Barrett ceremony a “superspreader event.”
“It was in a situation where people were crowded together and went without wearing masks. So the data speak for themselves,” he said in an interview with CBS Radio.
Trump was biding his time this week with telephone interviews, including one that stretched through the midday hours Friday with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. It was Trump’s third phone-in to a friendly outlet since Thursday, and he has scheduled additional interviews for the weekend.
Inside the White House, Trump has veered wildly on issues like whether he will participate in the next presidential debate or whether he will negotiate with Democrats on another stimulus package.
“I don’t think debates mean that much,” Trump insisted to Limbaugh, even as his campaign was pressuring the Commission on Presidential Debates to host an in-person event next week.
Before calling in, Trump wrote on Twitter that “Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along,” despite him abruptly scrapping talks with Democrats a few days earlier – a move that prompted stocks to plummet, spooking the President.
It all has lent the impression of a leader and an administration in new state of disarray, even for a tenure marked by chaos. Some of Trump’s aides have speculated his wild swings in temperament and head-spinning reversals are related to his medical condition, and specifically his use of dexamethasone, the steroid he had been taking as part of his treatment for coronavirus.
He’s been conducting most of his business by telephone as officials avoid coming into close contact with him. Those who have taken his calls uniformly described him as “upbeat,” though that has not been in evidence during his rage-filled interviews on Fox News and Fox Business, when he angrily tore into both his political rivals and the senior-most Cabinet members in his own administration.
Since Trump returned from the hospital on Monday, only a few senior officials have actually seen him in person as he works from the Residence and Oval Office. While offices had been arranged for him in the lower level of the executive mansion, Trump has found them wanting – he complained multiple times about his telephone during a Thursday morning interview on Fox Business – and has insisted on returning to the Oval Office.
Aides joining him included chief of staff Mark Meadows, social media adviser Dan Scavino and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who joined Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also joined to discuss the stimulus talks he is leading on Capitol Hill.
Trump has been evaluated by members of the medical team and continues to have a Secret Service detail. All wear yellow gowns, plastic goggles and N95 masks when they’re near him.
But the circle of people who have actually seen him in the flesh since Monday is very small. His staffing has been kept to a minimum to avoid contagion but also because so many of his aides have caught coronavirus.
Members of Trump’s inner-circle who would ordinarily interact with him multiple times a day – including senior advisers Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany – are themselves recovering from coronavirus at home. Daughter Ivanka Trump is quarantining at home as well, though she isn’t known to have the virus.
Vice President Mike Pence, who had been traveling in the West this week around his debate appearance, returned to Washington earlier than planned on Thur