December 5, 2021

Trump’s hospital exit strategy – POLITICO

With help from Myah Ward

HOUSE CALL — President Donald Trump, hospitalized for a disease he spent much of the past nine months downplaying, left Walter Reed medical center tonight to convalesce at the White House. What comes next depends very much on the course of a nasty virus that has delivered a remarkable range of outcomes for the more than 7 million Americans stricken by it. But four weeks from Election Day, with more than 210,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths and counting, Trump is itching to make the most of his experience.


The president is returning to the worst Covid-19 hot zone in the nation’s capital. The list of Trump aides who have tested positive is long and growing: His press secretary and a handful of press aides today joined his campaign manager, party chairwoman, current White House counselor, former counselor, debate prep captain and others in the Trump orbit. At least two people on the White House residence staff joined the list recently, and more among them — along with Secret Service agents — are likely to fall into the blast radius as a contagious patient-in-chief returns home.

The true gauge of Trump’s recovery will be hearing the president live, day after day, being his old self in interviews. A president who relishes calling in to Fox News programs and friendly radio shows has been unable to do so for almost 96 hours. It’s not clear whether it’s because of a vicious Covid-19 cough, or some other constraint, but the famously loquacious, optics-obsessed president has been silenced like never before.

Instead, the greatest showman to occupy the White House has been directing the messaging of his condition from his hospital — deciding what his doctors can and cannot reveal, sending upbeat messages through surrogates, posing for photos with unexplained documents, shooting short videos. Today saw the first tweets in days that sounded authentically Trump. His dramatic exit from the front doors of Walter Reed also left no doubt who is directing the show. His theatrical return to the White House — climbing up seldom-used stairs to a flag-adorned Truman Balcony, removing his mask to pose for pictures, saluting toward the Washington Monument, then entering the building mask-less — won him the TV news clip he’s been dreaming of from his hospital bed.

Yet what comes next for his health remains Trumpian-level suspense. If his symptoms emerged last Wednesday or Thursday, then he’s approaching the 7 to 10 day window when experts say some patients with severe Covid-19 have taken a turn for the worse. Rushing back to Walter Reed would be an obvious disaster for his health and his political fortunes, a humiliation after his anti-virus chest-beating.

It’s now four weeks until Election Day, a race shaping up as a referendum on Trump’s coronavirus response. The president — along with top campaign leaders and much of his White House communications team crippled by Covid-19 — know the virus is now in charge of the campaign. Already down in the polls, they’re playing their hand the only way Trump can — betting it all on a quick presidential recovery, making Trump’s physical strength a metaphor for the nation.

If it works, Trump could have a shot at turning a crushing October embarrassment into a come-from-behind November surprise: The only-I-can-fix-it president would finally have a second-term message that’s authentically Trump. “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he tweeted today in announcing his Walter Reed departure. “Don’t let it dominate your life.” Never mind that everyone else in America can’t go to Walter Reed in Marine One and have a dozen doctors serving up experimental drug cocktails on demand. It’s a message of Trumpian defiance.

If Trump takes a turn for the worse — some patients take weeks or months to recover from the virus at home — then his fate will be sealed before Election Day: He’ll be the president who downplayed the virus while hundreds of thousands of Americans died, who mocked his opponent for following common-sense health guidelines, who shrugged off his own coronavirus threat to own the libs.

Either way, it’s largely out of his hands now.

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly: Coronavirus Special Edition. It’s a boy: the news we need now. Reach out [email protected] or on Twitter at @renurayasam.

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH COVID — Coronavirus infections are crowding hospitals across the Midwest ahead of an election that could see the region decide the presidency and control of the Senate. But the wave of new cases hasn’t stopped governors and state legislators from pressing on with reopening plans, health care reporters Alice Ollstein and Dan Goldberg write.

Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states are loosening restrictions or weighing changes, just as they experience new spikes and as colder weather pushes people indoors — a convergence that could deliver a repeat of the summer’s deadliest months. “We can’t seem to learn our lesson,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. “We touch the stove, it’s hot, we burn ourselves, but we think if we touch it again, we’ll be fine.”

BUBBLE BURSTS — White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who held maskless briefings, has tested positive for Covid, putting reporters on the beat at risk for contracting the virus. Nightly reached out to one of POLITICO’s White House correspondents, Anita Kumar, over Slack to chat about what it’s like to worry about your own safety while covering Trump and whether the president’s diagnosis has changed any protocols. This conversation has been edited.

What’s it like right now to cover the presidency?

We’ve had almost four years of the Donald Trump presidency, so White House reporters are used to the unpredictable. But Covid has taken it to a whole other level. It seems like things are changing every minute — we don’t know who will test positive and who else will be impacted both at the White House and the Trump campaign.

Obviously, a large outbreak at the White House has always been a possibility, but the months passed and it never happened. Some people started thinking that maybe it wouldn’t.

I worked in Florida and I have covered more than my fair share of natural disasters, mostly hurricanes, and Covid feels like that except for one huge difference. Those assignments would last a few days. This is going on for months and months.

Are you worried about your health?

Reporters who go to the White House or travel with the president (I’ve done both lately) have to think about their own safety in a way that they haven’t before.

I stopped going to the White House or traveling for months. Many other White House reporters did the same. Some still haven’t come back.

I was the sole print reporter in the debate room in Cleveland last week. I wore a mask and had to be tested to be there. But when I returned back to Washington, we learned the president and first lady and others on that trip tested positive. That put me and others at risk.

They say to wait five days or so to get the test so I was tested once today at the White House. I will test again later this week on my own.

Do you think the White House is doing enough to keep reporters safe?

The White House Correspondents’ Association has worked with the White House since the spring to limit the number of reporters who are inside the White House, both working from there and attending events. But as you’ve seen, the White House continues to hold large events like the Supreme Court announcement in the Rose Garden and staff have worked without masks for months. That changed after the president’s diagnosis.

The White House had relaxed its protocols. Everyone who entered the building had to have a temperature check, but that ended a while back. And not everyone who enters the building has a test. Only people who will be close to the president. Others are tested randomly.

Any protocols that have changed for reporters since the president’s positive diagnosis?

The White House hasn’t told reporters about any changes.

‘FIREHOSE OF NEWS’ Trump was in the hospital with coronavirus. We know that much. But there are lots of unknowns about his condition, and his medical team isn’t filling in the gaps. In the latest POLITICO Dispatch, chief Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza breaks down what it all means for the campaign with less than a month before Election Day.

‘COMPLETELY RECKLESS’ — Trump’s fundraiser at his New Jersey golf club unnecessarily exposed hundreds of people to Covid-19, potentially exacerbating a recent surge of new cases in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said today in a series of public attacks on the president, Sam Sutton writes.

“The knowledge that they had before they left for New Jersey — that there was exposure to a Covid-positive individual — that trip was completely unacceptable, completely reckless and completely uncalled for,” Murphy, a Democrat, said during a press conference in Trenton. “We don’t need folks coming in, knowingly exposed to a Covid-positive individual, and then be in the midst of a couple of hundred people in New Jersey. That’s the last thing we need.”

Trump tested positive for the virus shortly after hosting a $2,800-per-ticket fundraiser at his private club in Bedminster, N.J., on Thursday.

ALBANY VS. NYC — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered new restrictions on pandemic hot spots in New York City, although they do not go as far as the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, had requested.

The governor, who has the sole authority over all such actions, will require several schools to close and revert to online-only instruction, and said further actions could be on the table soon. De Blasio had asked for a shutdown of all nonessential businesses in ZIP codes with rising infection rates, all of them in Brooklyn and Queens. Following the governor’s remarks, de Blasio said he expected approval to close those businesses soon, Bill Mahoney and Erin Durkin write.

“Picture those hot spots as embers within the field of dry grass,” Cuomo said. “The only course is to run to those embers and stamp them out immediately and dramatically.”

The most decisive action Cuomo ordered is a closure of schools in the affected ZIP codes, which are associated with nine neighborhoods. That will start on Tuesday, a day earlier than de Blasio proposed.

The governor said that places such as restaurants, nonessential businesses and public spaces “should close,” but did not immediately order them to do so.

THROUGH THE PLEXIGLASS The Commission on Presidential Debates has approved plans for plexiglass to be used in Wednesday’s vice presidential debate because of mounting concerns about coronavirus transmission, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Plexiglass is expected to be used as a barrier between Vice President Mike Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, as well as between the two candidates and moderator Susan Page, Alex Isenstadt and Christopher Cadelago write. The plans have the support of the Cleveland Clinic, which is helping to set health protocols for the forums.

“If Sen. Harris wants to use a fortress around herself, have at it,” said Katie Miller, a Pence spokesperson. A Harris spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘MAY NOT BE ENTIRELY OUT OF THE WOODS YET’Sean Conley, the president’s physician, appeared to confirm Sunday that Trump’s condition is more serious than the White House has so far acknowledged. And in a news briefing this afternoon, Conley conceded that the president “may not be entirely out of the woods yet.”

But, he continued, “the team and I agree that all our evaluations — and most importantly his clinical status — support the resident’s safe return home, where he’ll be supported by world-class medical care 24/7.”

FRENCH RETREATOfficials in Paris announced new restrictions today for the city and its suburbs as the area reached the highest coronavirus alert level, Elisa Braun writes.

All bars must close, as well as indoor sports areas such as swimming pools and gyms (with limited exceptions, including for children). Restaurants may stay open if they put in place strict protection measures that will be detailed later in the day, Paris police prefect Didier Lallement said during a press conference with Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Aurélien Rousseau, head of the regional health authority.

Universities are limited to 50 percent of their capacity and shops and malls must ensure density is limited to 4 square meters per customer. Working from home must be prioritized. The country’s “maximum alert” is reached when the weekly incidence rate exceeds 250 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants and Covid-19 patients represent at least 30 percent of those in intensive care unit beds. The incidence rate in Paris is now at 500 per 100,000 inhabitants in the 20 to 30 age group and Covid-19 patients represent 36 percent of ICU beds, said Rousseau.

SILVER LININGS One of the California wildfires has surpassed more than 1 million acres burned, the first blaze in recorded California history to reach seven figures of acreage. In Thursday’s Nightly, we brought you the first part of an interview about how climate change is becoming hazardous to human health from fires to disease to spreading homelessness.

The second and final part of the conversation between POLITICO’s executive health care editor Joanne Kenen and Howard Frumkin, a leading expert on environmental health and the former dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health, is more hopeful: Here’s how tackling climate change might actually benefit our health.

(Joanne and Howie know each other professionally as well as socially — he had the good sense to marry her close friend.) The interview has been edited.

You told me, “The diagnosis is pretty grim, but the treatment can be really great.” Can you explain?

We have to shift diets from meat toward more plant-based diets. That’s healthier, and we greatly reduce the carbon footprint of making food.

If we shift our transportation systems, especially in cities, away from single-occupancy motor vehicles toward walking, cycling and transit, then we get cleaner air, we get more physical activity, and we get fewer deaths from car crashes, which is a major killer of young people.

We get less urban noise, a stressor in cities. And we probably get better social connectedness, more social capital. At least we’ll get less road rage from reduced congestion.

Social connectedness is good for health. The things that we do might bring us together as a society — and help us restore the micro-connections we lost during Covid.

Building buildings that are energy efficient, well-lit with natural daylight and protected from the elements. Repairing substandard housing stock. That’s good for health.

Shifting from fossil fuels to renewables — that’s much better for health, including improved air quality.

There are lots of ways in which the transitions we have to make to deal with climate change are not the story of deprivation and sacrifice. It’s the story of improved lives and better health.

DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY In his debate performance last week, Trump called for vigilantes to invade polling places and “watch very carefully,” and suggested he might reject a “fraudulent election” if too many people vote by mail. Before the debate, he refused to pledge a peaceful transfer of power. The president’s illness hasn’t reduced the panic many are feeling. But when it comes to stealing a national election, let’s all take a deep breath, Michael Waldman and Wendy Weiser write.

To be sure, Trump is doing all he can to undermine the vote and foment chaos. All who care about our democracy should be angry — and ready. It’s terrifying to think about an Election Day full of chaos and disinformation, followed by false claims of victory and attempts to swap out electors. But there are strong safeguards in place, and many ways for the system to block an illegitimate power grab. There may be a plot against America, but a lot of people would have to break laws for the plot to succeed. An all-out attack can work only if all the institutional checks fail and the American people let it happen.

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