As President Trump and the First Lady are restricted to their living quarters in the White House Friday some of the implications of their COVID-19 diagnoses are being revealed minute by minute.
Much, however, has not been disclosed by the White House, including whether the president knew of his close aide’s positive result before he traveled Thursday to a private fundraiser at his New Jersey golf club. Hope Hicks, the president’s long-time confidant and top assistant, is reportedly displaying symptoms since testing positive.
It is still not known whether Hicks transferred the infection to the president or the other way around. The New York Times reported Trump is experiencing some mild symptoms, suggesting the need for both a longer quarantine as well as the advisability of the administration of therapeutic remedies.
Hicks has been in close contact with Trump and his inner circle of aides through the week, helping him prepare for Tuesday’s presidential debate in the small White House Map Room with others including former NJ Governor Chris Christie and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
With a recovery rate of around 96% for a person of Trump’s age there has been no consideration yet of transferring the powers of his office to Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence has not been close to Trump since Monday and his own his latest virus test was negative. When Trump and Hicks were in Duluth Wednesday for a MAGA rally, for instance, Pence was in Pennsylvania campaigning.
There has been a veil of sparce information in place at the White House since sources first revealed the presidential illness Thursday night to Bloomberg News. President Trump commented briefly on Hicks’ positive test result on Fox’s Sean Hannity program Thursday night near its conclusion after Hannity brought it up and before his own test result was known.
“She is a hard worker,” Trump said. “She wears a mask a lot. She tested positive. I just went out with the test. We’ll see.” He added, “We will see what happens. Who knows?”
Later, after 1am ET, Trump tweeted that he and First Lady Melania had indeed tested positive. “We will get through this TOGETHER!,” he wrote.
The president’s illness has caused the aversion to masks at the top levels of government – an aversion he encouraged – to evaporate. Awaited now is the public disclosure of the test results of many other White House staff, Secret Service personnel and of the many people with whom he has interacted this week.
The dramatic illustration Trump’s illness is presenting of the constant threat posed by the virus is having many direct and some indirect effects. It may become evident later in the day if Congress is being forced to reassess the need for additional funding for testing and treatment like that contained in the updated Heroes Act passed by the House last night, or in the similarly comprehensive – but less expensive – package that has been under negotiation this week between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. The day’s disappointing September jobs report can only reinforce the perception of an economic slowing underway, exacerbating the challenge of the pandemic.
Mnuchin, who met with Trump in the Oval Office earlier this week, tested negative. It is assumed Pelosi, who met face to face with Mnuchin Wednesday, is also being retested.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife, now, in Dubrovnik, Croatia, tested negative, he said earlier. His forthcoming tour of Asia is being reconsidered.
Officials in the Presidential Debate Commission, asked whether next week’s vice presidential debate and the October 15 presidential debate are still being planned or could be held remotely, refused comment.
Those White House staffers undergoing virus tests are aware that the uncertainty about results will not end quickly since it may take several days for the virus to become detectable. Some who test negative initially could see a different result the next day.
Cable TV video clips have shown Hicks in close proximity to a wide swath of White House officials, sometimes in the close confines of the Marine One helicopter, including Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka, Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino, who helps maintain the president’s Twitter account. Several others of Trump’s children accompanied him to Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland, including sons Eric and Donald Jr, and daughter Tiffany. Donald Jr’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle was also there. She has recovered from her own coronavirus infection.
If Trump eventually needs to be hospitalised, Pence could be designated as acting president either by Trump or by the vice president himself and a majority of Cabinet members. In more drastic circumstances, two-thirds of the House and Senate can vote to make the vice president the permanent acting president until the next election.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted his family’s best wishes for recovery to the Trumps without disclosing his own most current test status. Other well-wishers include many heads of state, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who recovered from his own infection. His recovery was relatively slow after three days in intensive care, and he was forced to delegate many duties to subordinates.
Biden and Trump stayed several feet apart and did not shake hands in Tuesday’s debate. Now the Oct 15 debate, in a town hall format, is in jeopardy. Whether or not the Oct 7 vice presidential debate still is scheduled will have to be decided.
Separately, the Secret Service training centre outside the capital reported its own virus outbreak affecting about a dozen personnel.
The White House has left one event on Friday’s schedule, a 12:15pm ET conference call on coronavirus relief for seniors, as officials look for ways to allow the president to maintain some public visibility despite his quarantine.
CDC guidelines specify that if a government worker deemed essential is not showing symptoms, they can remain on duty, which may turn out to apply to several top White House staff.