Out of hospital but still sick with COVID-19, Trump abruptly cancels aid talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, still being treated for COVID-19, on Tuesday broke off talks with Democrats on an economic aid package for his pandemic-hit country and drew rebukes from Facebook and Twitter for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.

His tweet ending talks for a new round of stimulus spooked Wall Street, sending stocks down as much as 2% from their session highs, a serious hit at one of the metrics that the Republican president has held up as a sign of success.

Trump’s action drew immediate criticism from congressional Democrats and at least one Republican, who said more was needed to help the millions who have lost their jobs in a health crisis that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.

After days of conflicting messages from doctors and aides about his condition, Trump, 74, showed he still had what it takes to fire off his signature tweets while being treated with powerful medications including steroids.

Trump returned to the White House on Monday after three nights in the hospital. Officials said he was working from makeshift office space in the residence rather than the Oval Office, with only a few senior staff gaining face-to-face access.

Support for his Democratic rival Joe Biden has grown by about four percentage points since mid-September, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling from Oct. 2 to 6, with 52% of likely voters backing Biden compared to 40% for Trump.

In his first major policy pronouncement since returning to the White House, Trump abruptly called off negotiations with Democratic lawmakers on coronavirus relief legislation until after the election, even as cases of the virus are on the rise across much of the country.

“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 on Twitter.

‘SHOWED HIS TRUE COLORS’

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“Today, once again, President Trump showed his true colors: putting himself first at the expense of the country,” Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, adding, “the White House is in complete disarray.”

In a call with fellow Democrats, Pelosi suggested Trump’s judgment had been affected by one of the drugs he was taking, the steroid dexamethasone, which is normally used in the most severe cases of COVID-19.

“There are people who thought, who think that steroids have an impact on your thinking,” Pelosi said, according to a person who had been on the call.

Trump’s doctor said on Tuesday that the president reported no COVID-19 symptoms and was doing “extremely well.”

Republican Representative John Katko also criticized the decision to break off talks.

“With lives at stake, we cannot afford to stop negotiations on a relief package,” Katko said on Twitter. “I strongly urge the President to rethink this move.”

The bipartisan House Problems Solvers Caucus released a statement condemning the end of talks.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said he agreed with Trump’s decision, telling reporters that “his view was that they were not going to produce a result and we need to concentrate on what’s achievable.”

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Democrats’ chances of capturing a Senate majority inched higher in recent days as three nonpartisan U.S. elections analysts added Lindsey Graham’s seat to the list of now-10 Senate seats in play, which includes eight potentially vulnerable Republicans and two vulnerable Democrats.

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in that chamber.

McConnell aims to keep his focus on pushing through with confirming Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, which would cement a 6-3 conservative majority.

That nomination presented Trump and his fellow Republicans with an opportunity to turn the focus of the presidential campaign away from the coronavirus, prior to Trump’s illness.

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DOWNPLAYS RISK

Trump tested positive for coronavirus last week after months of playing down the deadly infection, and he stood by that message on Tuesday.

“Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” Trump wrote on Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter Inc TWTR.N responded by putting a warning label on the post, saying it included potentially misleading information. Facebook Inc FB.O removed the Trump post for breaking its rules on COVID-19 misinformation, according to CNN.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the threat from COVID-19 was “very, very much different” than influenza’s reach.

The United States has the world’s highest death toll from the pandemic, with more than 210,000 deaths. By comparison, influenza typically kills between some 22,000 and 64,000 people a year in the United States, U.S. government statistics show.

Trump had no public events listed for Tuesday and it was unclear when he would resume a full schedule of presidential duties and campaigning ahead of Election Day, Nov. 3. He has not been seen in public since Monday night but tweeted that he was looking forward to a scheduled second debate with Democratic election opponent Joe Biden on Oct. 15

Many Trump aides and confidants have been diagnosed with the disease since he revealed Friday that he had tested positive, intensifying scrutiny and criticism of the administration’s handling of the pandemic.

The top U.S. military leaders are isolating after the Coast Guard’s No. 2 tested positive for the coronavirus, Pentagon officials said.

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