WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Boasting about his achievements and hurling unsubstantiated allegations against his opponents, U.S. President Donald Trump appeared back to his old self as he addressed supporters at the White House in his first public event since being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Standing alone and not wearing a mask, the Republican president spoke from a White House balcony at an event called “a peaceful protest for law & order,” urging a crowd of hundreds of largely Black and Latino supporters to help get out the vote in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
His appearance – amid continued questions over whether he is still contagious – is seen as a first step toward resuming full campaigning next week. He is due to go to Florida, Pennsylvania, and Iowa, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, respectively.
Speaking firmly and without hesitation, Trump delivered a shorter-than-usual campaign speech, hailing his record in fighting crime and boosting the U.S. economy, while slamming Democrats as supporters cheered. A flesh-colored bandage was visible on his right hand.
“I’m feeling great,” he told the crowd.
Those gathered were wearing masks, although most failed to observe social distancing guidelines.
It was the first time Trump had appeared in public since he was released from a three-night stay in hospital on Monday, when some observers watching his return to the White House said he appeared at times to be short of breath.
The White House has released videos and Trump has called into television shows since then, but this was supporters’ first chance to see the president live.
The White House has not released the results of Trump’s latest COVID-19 test and has declined to say when he last tested negative. Trump first revealed that he had had a positive test on Oct. 2 and on Thursday said he was no longer contagious, which some experts say is unlikely.
The White House last gave a public assessment of Trump’s health status on Thursday when the president’s doctor, Dr Sean Conley, said in a memo that Trump had completed his course of therapy for the coronavirus, had responded “extremely well” to treatment, and cleared him for public engagements.
On Friday, a White House spokeswoman said Trump would be tested for COVID-19 and would not go out in public if it was determined he could still spread the virus.
Trump delivered a wide-ranging speech that touched on scrapping former President Barack Obama’s ‘Obamacare’ healthcare reform law, criminal justice reform, and the state of the economy.
But opinion polls increasingly show that as Election Day approaches, voters see Nov. 3 as a chance to cast a vote on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.
The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism for its handling of the pandemic, as well as for a lax approach to mask-wearing and social distancing in the White House and – in recent days – confusing messages about how ill the president has been.
Trump repeated past calls for states to reopen their economies even as new cases of COVID-19 hit a two-month high on Friday. A Reuters analysis showed that there were over 58,000 infections reported and hospitalizations in the Midwest hit record levels for a fifth day in a row.
Democrats and some commentators criticized Saturday’s White House event for potentially exposing a new batch of supporters to the virus and for using a federal building as an election prop.
Asked about it in New Castle, Delaware, Biden said he hoped that Trump and his supporters were taking precautions.
“They should be socially distant and wearing masks,” he said. “It’s the only responsible thing to do.”
Republican Tom McCullagh, who is running for a state senate seat in Illinois and flew to Washington for Trump’s event, said he was not worried about catching the virus.
“If the president felt it was safe enough for him to hold a rally, I trust his judgment,” McCullagh told Reuters.
McCullagh wore a mask and kept his distance from other participants but said he and a friend did not have their temperature taken before entering the White House grounds. Sources familiar with planning for the event had said that all participants would be screened for possible COVID-19 symptoms and have their temperature taken.
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