The White House that President Trump woke up in on Tuesday morning was in full-blown chaos, even by the standards of the havoc of the Trump era.
Aides said the president’s voice was stronger after his return from the hospital Monday night, but at times he still sounded as if he was trying to catch air. The West Wing was mostly empty, cleared of advisers who were out sick with the coronavirus themselves or told to work from home rather than in the capital’s most famous virus hot spot. Staff members in the White House residence were in full personal protective equipment, including yellow gowns, surgical masks and disposable protective eye covers.
Four more White House officials tested positive, including Stephen Miller, a top adviser to Mr. Trump, bringing to 14 the number of people carrying the virus at the White House or in the president’s close circle. Mr. Trump, diagnosed with Covid-19 last week, was still livid at his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, whose effort on Saturday to tamp down the rosy portrait of Mr. Trump’s condition given to reporters by his chief doctor was caught on camera. Other officials were angry with Mr. Meadows for not even trying to control the president.
Some aides tried to project confidence — “We feel comfortable working here, those of us who are still here,” Alyssa Farah, the White House communications director, said in an interview on Fox News — but many saw the situation as spiraling out of control. The pandemic that Mr. Trump had treated cavalierly for months seemed to have locked its grip on the White House. West Wing aides, shaken by polls showing the president badly trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr., worried that they were living through the final days of the Trump administration.
The disarray was at the same time spreading across Washington. Almost the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, including its chairman, Gen. Mark A. Milley, went into quarantine on Tuesday after coming in contact with Adm. Charles W. Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, who tested positive for the coronavirus. Late in the day, the stock market took a dive when Mr. Trump abruptly called off talks for a congressional coronavirus relief bill after the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, said such a stimulus was badly needed.
Some White House staff members wondered whether Mr. Trump’s behavior was spurred by a cocktail of drugs he has been taking to treat the coronavirus, including dexamethasone, a steroid that can cause mood swings and can give a false level of energy and a sense of euphoria.
Staff members said the president was glad to be back in the White House after spending four days and three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which aides said made him feel as if he were in a cage. Mr. Meadows and Bobby Peede, the director of the White House advance team, kept him company there for hours and served as a lifeline to the rest