President Donald Trump will hold an in-person event at the White House on Saturday and a rally two days later in Florida, hosting his first public events since being hospitalized with Covid-19 and bucking criticism that the gatherings threaten to spread the virus further.
The South Lawn event on Saturday is expected to include a couple hundred guests, a person familiar with the matter said. The president will address the crowd from a distance, on the Blue Room balcony. On Monday, he plans to travel to Sanford, Florida, to address supporters, his campaign said in a statement.
The White House guests must bring masks with them and wear them on the grounds, a person familiar with the matter said, adding that they also have to undergo a Covid-19 screening on Saturday morning that will include a temperature check and a brief questionnaire. Those rules were put in place not by the White House but by the organizer of the event, the Blexit group, led by Candace Owens, a Trump ally, the person said.
The events come amid criticism that Trump’s decision to hold a crowded Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony — where he announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court — helped spark an ongoing coronavirus outbreak at the White House that has sickened several staffers. While the White House had a testing regime in place to screen for virus cases, few guests wore masks and attendees mingled and sat in close proximity to one another both indoors and outdoors.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, earlier Friday called it a “super-spreader event.”
Trump will remain at the White House this weekend, people familiar with the matter said. He said on Thursday that he wanted to hold rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania on Saturday and Sunday.
He has been eager to return to the campaign trail as Democratic nominee Joe Biden widens his lead just weeks before the Nov. 3 election. Trump has released recorded video messages saying he’s well, and his physician said in a statement Wednesday that the president had been free of symptoms for the previous 24 hours.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump “will be clear to go” on Saturday, when “he wants to talk to the American people.” There are medical tests underway to ensure he doesn’t transmit the virus when he returns to the campaign trail, she said on Fox News, adding that she’d conferred with White House doctor Sean Conley.
McEnany, who herself has tested positive for Covid-19, is working remotely.
The Saturday event will be focused on law and order, according to one of the people.
Trump’s filling the void of not hitting the campaign trail by doing a series of lengthy interviews with conservative talk shows. He spent two hours in a radio interview with Rush Limbaugh on Friday. The president’s campaign billed it as “the largest virtual rally in radio history.”
The president is later scheduled to appear on conservative radio host Mark Levin’s show and later on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News television program.
Trump sounded congested, but didn’t clear his throat or otherwise exhibit any trouble breathing during the course of his interview with Limbaugh. He acknowledged that he’d dealt with some “lingering” effects following his bout with the virus. He said his voice “is now perfect.”
The president said that he’d met with 11 doctors at the White House earlier on Friday, and they said he could have faced dire circumstances from the highly contagious disease that’s killed more than 213,000 Americans. The coronavirus is particularly lethal for the elderly and overweight.
“I said, ‘How bad was I?’” Trump, 74, said. “They said you could have been very bad. You were going into a very bad phase.” He added: “This looks like it was going to be a big deal.”
— With assistance by Justin Sink, and Mario Parker
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