Panic and confusion permeate White House after Trump’s Covid diagnosis

Golden autumn sunshine shone down on Washington on Saturday to illuminate a US capital upended as Donald Trump began his first full day in hospital battling coronavirus amid a presidential election thrown into chaos.



a large clock tower towering over White House: Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Related: Amy Coney Barrett: quick confirmation under threat as three senators infected

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Just hours earlier, on Friday evening after an excruciating wait for news, the president had emerged from the White House with a lacklustre wave and thumbs up, but ignoring reporters’ shouted questions about the state of his health.

Trump stalked slowly across the south lawn and boarded the US presidential helicopter. The only visual clue that something profound had changed was Trump’s face: he was wearing a mask.

As Marine One lifted into the sky just before sunset, the president left behind a White House staff suddenly rudderless, fearful and unsure how the story will end. The reality TV star turned president has delivered his greatest moment of suspense and the presidential election with its first “October surprise” but maybe not its last.

Trump, 74, is spending the weekend at a military hospital near Washington after discovering that not even the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful country is immune to the coronavirus. Said to be feverish and fatigued, there is huge uncertainty over his condition, its potential to deteriorate and whether he might become incapacitated.

In his absence, the mood in the White House was said to be one of panic, with growing concern over the extent of the spread of the virus within the building and whether it could disrupt the functioning of government.

Staff have taken their lead from Trump’s bubble of denial for months, eschewing face masks and congregating in the west wing’s cramped spaces and narrow hallways. The president’s positive test was chilling proof of what the rest of the country has long known: no one is safe.

“People are losing their minds,” one source told the Washington Post newspaper.

As Friday wore on and Trump’s condition worsened, staff were also forced to confront the possibility that his health could be at serious risk. An information vacuum filled with rumour and speculation and did little to calm nerves, with media outlets forced to depend on leaks from anonymous officials or presidential tweets such as: “Going welI, I think! Thank you to all. LOVE!!!”

The heavily guarded White House is one of the world’s most secure properties with a new 13ft tall fence to keep out intruders, protesters and terrorists. Yet it too was breached by the invisible pathogen that has killed more than 205,000 Americans. Commentators said there could be no greater proof of the administration’s failure to combat the pandemic.

How, when or from whom Trump became infected remains a mystery. But the myth of invulnerability may have been finally shattered by an event in the White House Rose Garden last Saturday in which he nominated judge Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court. More

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Panic and confusion permeate White House following Trump’s Covid diagnosis

Golden autumn sunshine shone down on Washington on Saturday to illuminate a US capital upended as Donald Trump began his first full day in hospital battling coronavirus amid a presidential election thrown into chaos.



a large clock tower towering over White House: Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Related: Amy Coney Barrett: quick confirmation under threat as three senators infected

Just hours earlier, on Friday evening after an excruciating wait for news, the president had emerged from the White House with a lacklustre wave and thumbs up, but ignoring reporters’ shouted questions about the state of his health.

Trump stalked slowly across the south lawn and boarded the US presidential helicopter. The only visual clue that something profound had changed was Trump’s face: he was wearing a mask.

As Marine One lifted into the sky just before sunset, the president left behind a White House staff suddenly rudderless, fearful and unsure how the story will end. The reality TV star turned president has delivered his greatest moment of suspense and the presidential election with its first “October surprise” but maybe not its last.

Trump, 74, is spending the weekend at a military hospital near Washington after discovering that not even the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful country is immune to the coronavirus. Said to be feverish and fatigued, there is huge uncertainty over his condition, its potential to deteriorate and whether he might become incapacitated.

In his absence, the mood in the White House was said to be one of panic, with growing concern over the extent of the spread of the virus within the building and whether it could disrupt the functioning of government.

Staff have taken their lead from Trump’s bubble of denial for months, eschewing face masks and congregating in the west wing’s cramped spaces and narrow hallways. The president’s positive test was chilling proof of what the rest of the country has long known: no one is safe.

“People are losing their minds,” one source told the Washington Post newspaper.

As Friday wore on and Trump’s conditioned worsened, staff were also forced to confront the possibility that his health could be at serious risk. An information vacuum filled with rumour and speculation and did little to calm nerves, with media outlets forced to depend on leaks from anonymous officials or presidential tweets such as: “Going welI, I think! Thank you to all. LOVE!!!”

The heavily guarded White House is one of the world’s most secure properties with a new 13ft tall fence to keep out intruders, protesters and terrorists. Yet it too was breached by the invisible pathogen that has killed more than 205,000 Americans. Commentators said there could be no greater proof of the administration’s failure to combat the pandemic.

How, when or from whom Trump became infected remains a mystery. But the myth of invulnerability may have been finally shattered by an event in the White House Rose Garden last Saturday in which he nominated judge Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court. More than

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White House triggers questions and confusion about Trump’s coronavirus case

A White House official later added that Trump’s vitals had become concerning Friday morning, hours before he was moved to the hospital. Meanwhile, numerous indications emerged that Trump had received oxygen at the White House during that time period — a step frequently needed for patients with serious coronavirus cases. The revelations swiftly cast a harsh spotlight on Conley’s carefully phrased denials about Trump needing oxygen assistance.

Conley and Trump’s medical team also sent shockwaves through the White House and political landscape with their timeline of Trump’s first positive coronavirus test. During the briefing, Conley said it had been 72 hours since Trump was diagnosed with Covid-19, suggesting Trump knew about his status on Wednesday, well before he revealed it overnight Thursday into Friday. That would mean Trump had gone on with his normal schedule, traveling and working in close proximity to aides and staffers, for well over a full day.

Yet again, though, the White House scrambled minutes after the briefing to clarify the timeline from the medical team. Another White House aide said the doctor had meant to say “day 3” instead of “72 hours,” since Trump had been diagnosed Thursday night. Conley made the clarification official a few hours later, releasing what amounted to the fourth statement of the day from the White House.

Still, questions lingered about Conley’s wording that Trump’s medical team had “repeated testing” on “Thursday afternoon,” perhaps indicating an earlier initial test before firm confirmation that evening.

It was a head-spinning sequence reflective of a White House — and president — not always known for transparency on health matters. As a candidate, Trump infamously had his doctor declare he would be the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” And as president, Trump’s former physician triggered eyerolls when he claimed the president could have lived to “200 years old” with a better diet. The White House has also given head-scratching explanations for an unusual trip to Walter Reed last year.

“The world has to know whether the president of the United States is in good health,” said Scott Jennings, who worked for President George W. Bush and is close to the Trump White House. “You cannot have inconsistent reports about the president’s health.”

“I am stunned that the White House put the president’s doctor out there and then issued a contradictory statement,” he added. “You can’t do that. This just invites questions about what’s going on there.”

Since the coronavirus hit the U.S., the White House has similarly been coy at times about staffers testing positive, with some of the more notable infections only being confirmed after leaks to the press.

Trump’s case has been no different. One former senior administration official said only a few people, like the president’s family, actually know the full truth about Trump’s condition. As a result, conflicting rumors about Trump’s health have been flying around the presidential orbit.

In a four-minute video released Saturday evening, Trump contradicted Meadows and other top officials who had framed his health

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Confusion, concern infiltrate White House as Trump heads to hospital


Mark Meadows speaks to reporters.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks to reporters about President Trump’s positive coronavirus test outside the West Wing. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Updated


Inside an eerily quiet White House Friday morning, a barebones staff scrambled to contain the fallout from a nightmare scenario: President Donald Trump and his wife Melania hobbled by the coronavirus in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign.

Trump spent the morning quarantined in the residence with his wife, calling key senators and consulting in-house doctors about his symptoms, which included fatigue and cold-like congestion, according to a senior administration official. But he remained silent publicly throughout the morning and afternoon, causing some concern. And by Friday evening, he was being transferred to Walter Reed hospital for the coming days “out of an abundance of caution,” according to the White House.

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As the president’s diagnosis ricocheted through the West Wing, daily meetings were converted to conference calls and White House officials were advised not to come in. Among those who arrived at work anyway, many wore masks as they moved around the executive complex — adopting a preventative measure they previously dismissed. Vice President Mike Pence, who would take over for the president if he becomes incapacitated, remained at home but soon announced he would resume his campaign schedule after testing negative.

At the Trump campaign’s headquarters in the Washington suburbs, a morning meeting was canceled and aides were advised by Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien to stay home if they felt they may have been exposed to the virus themselves. Some staffers who were in close proximity to the first family at the presidential debate earlier this week nevertheless reported for work, while others left the office shortly after receiving Stepien’s memo.

“There’s a pretty good number of people here,” said one senior campaign official working from the Arlington, Va., campaign office Friday morning.

Campaign officials and Trump aides who were contacted by the White House Medical Unit as part of contact tracing measures were asked to report for testing early Friday afternoon, while others who believed they may have been at risk of exposure were left to procure coronavirus tests on their own.

The Friday confusion was largely reflective of the haphazard protocols White House officials have grown accustomed to in the last few months, as the president has crisscrossed the U.S. to rally with thousands of maskless supporters and used the executive complex to host large ceremonies flaunting social distancing guidelines. Some officials expressed concern about the startling lack of contingency planning, particularly after witnessing the scramble that ensued earlier this summer when Pence spokesperson Katie Miller, who is married to the president’s top policy adviser, tested positive immediately after traveling with the vice president and interacting with other staffers.

“I wish I could tell you they have this good protocol that’s been in play for months, but it seems to ramp up and down

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Confusion, concern infiltrate White House after Trump’s positive test

At the Trump campaign’s headquarters in the Washington suburbs, staffers who were in close proximity to the first family at the presidential debate earlier this week nevertheless reported for work. Some ended up staying, while others left.

“There’s a pretty good number of people here,” said one senior campaign official working from the Arlington, Va., campaign office Friday morning.

Campaign officials and Trump aides who were contacted by the White House Medical Unit as part of contact tracing measures were asked to report for testing early Friday afternoon, while others who believed they may have been at risk of exposure were left to procure coronavirus tests on their own.

The Friday morning confusion was largely reflective of the haphazard protocols White House officials have grown accustomed to in the last few months, as the president has crisscrossed the U.S. to rally with thousands of maskless supporters and used the executive complex to host large ceremonies flaunting social distancing guidelines. Some officials expressed concern about the startling lack of contingency planning, particularly after witnessing the scramble that ensued earlier this summer when Pence spokesperson Katie Miller, who is married to the president’s top policy adviser, tested positive immediately after traveling with the vice president and interacting with other staffers.

Trump may have contracted the virus after interacting with his aide Hope Hicks, a top White House communications official who tested positive Wednesday night. But it has since come out that people present at other Trump events over the last week, including a Rose Garden ceremony on Saturday introducing Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, also tested positive for Covid-19.

As White House officials and campaign advisers spent Friday working to design a message and overhaul their plans for the remaining month before the November election, television appearances were canceled and campaign events postponed. Trump was notably silent on Twitter.

One Republican close to the Trump campaign said aides were expected to hold a meeting Friday afternoon to begin planning the president’s schedule in light of the new limitations, which could severely impact both official events — including Oval Office signing ceremonies and Rose Garden speeches — and campaign appearances that Trump had planned for the coming weeks.

Prior to his positive test, Trump had been using the White House for large, celebratory set-piece events, such as his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and a commemorative ceremony for a peace accord between Israel and two Middle Eastern countries.

“The president has to keep a minimal schedule and see how he feels,” this person said, adding that “it’s way too early to be able to tell” whether Trump will be able to participate in virtual campaign events or the second presidential debate, which is set to take place Oct. 15 in Miami.

It’s possible Trump will resort to the kinds of campaign activities he participated in before he returned to the campaign trail in June for outdoor rallies and smaller coalition gatherings. White House officials who have previously tested positive for

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Trump effort to bar racial-sensitivity trainings in federal government leads to confusion for employees

“I ended it because a lot of people were complaining that they were asked to do things that were absolutely insane, that it was a radical revolution that was taking place in our military, in our schools all over the place,” Trump said. “And you know it. And so does everybody.”

Democratic nominee Joe Biden alleged, however, that Trump had a much different motive for banning the trainings: “He’s a racist.”

Their comments came one day after the White House issued its second set of guidelines on the attempted bans. The guidelines outlined how the government would retaliate against those who did not follow the new restrictions.

They have raised numerous questions inside government agencies about how to proceed. It also triggered a backlash within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, with some career employees complaining policy is being set based on what the president sees on conservative cable networks — and OMB officials are happily going along with it.

Russell Vought, OMB’s director, updated the administration’s guidance after the National Park Service sent agency officials a memo last week suspending hundreds of training programs while it tried to understand how to comply with the order, according to emails and documents reviewed by The Washington Post. It would later narrow the list of suspended courses, but some employees said they still included ones on sexual harassment, tribal consultation and how to respond to people with disabilities.

The White House orders have led to scrambling throughout the government.

Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the government’s second-largest agency and among the most decentralized, abruptly canceled a diversity training program at the VA hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla. This decision was made by the agency’s Washington headquarters after a conservative activist flagged the event on Twitter.

The chain of events stems from a Sept. 4 memo Vought issued, which said Trump had asked him to stop federal agencies from giving employee trainings on “white privilege” and critical race theory. Vought cast this approach as “divisive” and “un-American.”

The White House issued the memo after Fox News ran a number of segments criticizing “diversity and inclusion” efforts in the federal government.

Trump saw one of the cable news programs and asked aides, “What is this crap?” an administration official said, describing his reaction, and he directed OMB to cancel the seminars. Trump saw the matter as a winning campaign issue. Within days, a guest on Fox News who raised the issue had been called, Vought had been summoned to the Oval Office, and the memo from OMB had been drafted. It was released late on a Friday night.

Trump followed up with an executive order last week barring federal contractors from using workplace training that includes what he called “race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating.” The president has also asked other aides what else can be done to make sure agencies are complying.

The White House directives attempt to create significant penalties for federal

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