President Donald Trump assured Americans on Wednesday the deadly coronavirus was on the brink of disappearing. Two days later, he admitted it wasn’t.
In the span of 48 hours this week, from the moment markets plunged after a confusing and stiff Oval Office address to his national emergency declaration from the Rose Garden, Trump watched his own assessment of the viral outbreak transform in extraordinary fashion, forcing him into a course correction.
The unprecedented shutdown of the world’s largest economy — a nation of 330 million people — will mark the most consequential stretch of Trump’s presidency and transform how Americans think about their government. For Trump himself, the journey appeared to represent a recognition that his earlier path threatened to engulf a nation he oversees with a spreading pandemic and diminish hope for reelection this fall.
Trump’s do-over approach — he unlocked $50 billion in government funding on Friday to address the growing crisis and threw his support behind House Democrats’ aid package hours later — followed weeks of the president shrugging off the coronavirus threat and making statements about the availability of tests, the severity of the virus and the development of a COVID-19 vaccine that his own officials had to correct, sometimes within minutes of being made.
During a visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Trump said the virus “will go away” and said his response was “really working out.”
Instead, the forecast grew worse. State and local leaders, business executives and tens of millions of ordinary Americans leapfrogged their president — without waiting for White House guidance — to shut down public spaces, schools, offices and other gathering spaces and encourage millions of Americans to hunker down for a fast-spreading, invisible threat.
Even as the stock market rebounded Friday in response to Trump’s release of emergency funding, the week ended with a mystery about whether America’s 73-year-old commander-in-chief, who has downplayed concerns about a virus that disproportionately impacts the elderly, could potentially be the world’s highest-ranking vector.
During a rare appearance in the White House briefing room on Saturday, donning a “USA” ball cap, Trump said he was tested Friday night for COVID-19 and has started receiving temperature checks. The news came hours after a top Brazilian official at Mar-a-Lago last weekend — who dined with the president and many of his top aides — tested positive for the virus. (The White House physician said late Saturday that Trump’s test was negative.)
The White House began administering temperature checks this weekend to “any individuals who are in close contact” with Trump or Pence, a spokesman said. This included members of the press corps who were stopped by a staff physician at the entrance to the James S. Brady briefing room Saturday afternoon.
“SOCIAL DISTANCING!” Trump tweeted prior to the news conference and one day after he was seen repeatedly shaking hands with corporate CEOs and health officials during his televised remarks from the Rose Garden.
Rebuffing the precautionary isolation measures his own aides were taking, Trump will now spend the weekend sifting through options with White House staff — some of whom are fresh off self-quarantines — about the mechanics of a bailout for industries devastated financially by the virus outbreak. White House aides headed into the complex early Saturday morning for the next round of urgent discussions, a recognition of the tight timeline they’re facing to rescue key sectors of the economy such as transportation and tourism.
Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are assembling a list of options for Trump to consider as he looks to rescue crumbling industries and protect their workforces, according to two senior administration officials.