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Somehow, COVID-infected Trump didn't see it coming

President Donald Trump tosses MAGA hats to supporters

President Donald Trump tosses MAGA hats to supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday in Duluth, Minn. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

Took the risks, lost the bet

It was what it was. Now it's worse.

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus. They are in quarantine in the White House, with the nation still in the grip of the pandemic crisis that has seen almost 208,000 die of the disease in the U.S. and a frenetic election campaign about to enter its final month.

"Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!" Trump said in a tweet at 12:54 a.m. Friday.

A statement from White House physician Dr. Sean Conley said the Trumps "are both well at this time" and "plan to remain at home in the White House during their convalescence." He added: "I expect the President to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering …"

The unknowns are frightful with the disease that can grow worse in a matter of days or weeks. At the age of 74, seriously overweight and with coronary artery disease, Trump fits the profile of those at higher risk of serious consequences or death. Also not clear: how long he has been contagious, and who could possibly have caught the virus from him.

It's the worst health crisis for a sitting American president since Ronald Reagan was shot.

Trump’s positive test comes just hours after news broke that Trump's close aide Hope Hicks, who traveled with the president and staff several times this week, had come down with the disease.

The example he set

Trump said he played down the coronavirus to avert public panic, but there was obvious self-interest because the pandemic hit the country in an election year. The corner would be turned by Easter, he predicted. The warm weather would end it. It would disappear like a miracle. A vaccine will come around by Election Day like a brass ring.

Hours before his diagnosis, he phoned in to the annual Al Smith dinner of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York: "I just want to say that the end of the pandemic is in sight, and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country."

He resisted calls to set an example for followers by dutifully wearing a mask in public. Those who took their cues from him included thousands of fans at rallies and much of the West Wing staff.

Hicks, like her boss, took a casual approach to mask-wearing despite government guidelines. She was seen maskless Tuesday while riding in a staff van with White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, campaign adviser Jason Miller and others, according to a Bloomberg News report.

There were other White House coronavirus cases before Hicks, but none of those infected were as constantly by his side. Hicks traveled with him multiple times this week, including aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter, and Air Force One to Minnesota for his campaign rally on Wednesday night. People close to Hicks, 31, said she felt poorly on Wednesday and tested positive Thursday. It remains unknown whether she was the source of Trump's infection.

On Tuesday night, Trump ridiculed rival Joe Biden on the debate stage for his adherence to the protocols to curb spread. "He could be speaking 200 feet away from — and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen," Trump said.

Trump’s handling of the pandemic has become a major flashpoint in his race against Biden. There was no immediate comment from the Biden campaign on whether the former vice president had been tested since the debate. A witness said Trump's entourage in the audience defied requests from Cleveland Clinic personnel to wear masks.

The news about the president was sure to rattle an already shaken nation still grappling with how to safely reopen while avoiding further spikes in infection, writes The Associated Press. The White House has access to near-unlimited resources, including a constant supply of rapid-result tests, and still failed to keep the president safe, raising questions about how the rest of the country will be able to protect its workers, students and the public as businesses and schools reopen. Then again, it's clear Trump and his inner circle haven't done all they could have to protect themselves. The rest of us still can.

What ifs …

It wasn't immediately clear if Vice President Mike Pence had any worrisome recent contact with Trump, Hicks or anyone else who could have been infected. Pence was at a coronavirus task force briefing with Trump on Monday. Just before 2 a.m. Friday, he tweeted that he is praying for the Trumps' "full and swift recovery."

Trump's schedule has been canceled for Friday except for "a phone call on COVID-19 support to vulnerable seniors."

If Trump were to become seriously ill, the Constitution’s 25th Amendment spells out the procedures under which a president can declare themselves "unable to discharge the powers and duties" of the presidency. Pence would serve as acting president until Trump transmitted "a written declaration to the contrary."

If Pence also were to be incapacitated, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be the most likely person to take over.

Earlier …

It is too early to know how profoundly Trump's illness will alter the shape of the 2020 race. It was all on, wild as ever, on Thursday, and here were some of the developments:

War over voting takes turn for wurst

Republicans have feared a big turnout in Democratic cities could crush Trump's reelection hopes, and their battle to prevent it has taken some strange turns.

In Wisconsin, state GOP chairman Andrew Hitt warned the Milwaukee Election Commission not to allow players from the Bucks and Brewers or the baseball team's Famous Racing Sausages mascots appear at early-voting events at local sports venues. A Democratic election lawyer said it is not illegal electioneering if the players and mascots are not campaigning for any candidates. The GOP intent, charged Michael Maistelman, was for fewer voters to show up.

Polls show Biden nipping on Trump's heels in Texas, the nation's second-biggest electoral vote. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation on Thursday that effectively could make it harder to vote in Democratic-leaning urban areas.

Abbott said that as of Friday, each county can keep up just one satellite location open for drop-offs of early ballots. Harris County — an area bigger than Rhode Island with a population of 4.7 million — had planned to have a dozen such locations. Abbott, a Trump ally, said he issued the order to enhance ballot security and "stop attempts at illegal voting." Lina Hidalgo, the Democratic Harris County judge, a position similar to county executive, said "this isn’t security, it’s suppression."

Around the country, the Trump campaign is pursuing an unusually aggressive, hyperlocal legal strategy to contest election procedures county by county across battleground states, The Associated Press reports. When the campaign took issue with a new rule on processing some votes in North Carolina, it didn’t just complain to the state Board of Elections or sue. It wrote to some of the state’s 100 local election offices and told them to defy the rule.

Election experts and lawyers say the GOP efforts demonstrate a new willingness to fight and amplify relatively minor, even legally dubious issues, such as nine discarded ballots in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. That was a mistake by a temporary worker who then was fired, but Trump, alerted by the Justice Department, seized on the incident to include it in his scattershot, unfounded claims of massive fraud. Trump also made false claims about poll watchers being blocked in Philadelphia. Election lawyers said that under state law, those volunteers had no right to be in an elections office where someone is registering to vote, applying for a mail-in ballot or filling one out.

Meanwhile, two right-wing dirty tricksters with a record of promoting hoaxes were charged with felonies in Michigan on accusations of making tens of thousands of intimidating robocalls aimed to dissuade residents in Detroit and other U.S. cities from voting by mail. The recordings from Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman falsely said that mail balloting would put voter names in databases that could lead to arrests on old warrants, debt collection and forced vaccinations, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Is violent right so wrong?

Trump made clear during the Tuesday debate that he wasn't on board with FBI Director Christopher Wray's assessment pinning larger blame for political violence on the extreme right, not the left. Now NBC News reports it has obtained internal Department of Homeland Security documents showing how far sympathy with killers on the right could go.

The talking points directed law enforcement officials to make public comments sympathetic to Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager facing murder charges in the shooting death of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the wounding of a third. The officials were to say the 17-year-old, who traveled to Kenosha with an AR-15, "took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners."

Four former DHS officials, two of whom worked for Republican administrations, told NBC it was unusual for law enforcement officials to be instructed to weigh in on a case involving a particular group or individual before investigations had concluded. Trump has expressed sympathy for Rittenhouse, saying it appeared that the defendant was "trying to get away from them," referring to the protesters he is accused of having fatally shot.

Putin's playbook

Two of Trump's former national security advisers said Thursday his election rhetoric has become dangerous.

Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Trump is "aiding and abetting" Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to sow doubt about the American elections system. "This sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial is aided by any leader who doesn’t acknowledge it," he said on MSNBC.

McMaster also said Trump "missed an opportunity" to condemn white nationalism during the presidential debate Tuesday night. "It should be super easy to condemn white supremacists," McMaster said.

John Bolton, who succeeded McMaster, had an explanation why Trump doesn't. "He doesn’t see it as being in his political interest," Bolton said on CNN. Even when the president eventually does, Bolton said, "he’s getting the benefit out of the ambiguity during the interim and he knows it. He does this all the time."

Bolton also voiced alarm at Trump's "stand back, stand by" message to the violence-bent Proud Boys group. "I took that to mean, just back off for now. But to put it a different way, keep your powder dry," said Bolton. "I thought it was a real threat, and I think he knew exactly what he meant."

Janison: Inside agitator

Provocateurs prod others to take what might be risky or transgressive action. Presidents, on the other hand, are supposed to represent lawful authority. But Trump chooses to be provocateur in chief, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

He hones this role as polls show him trailing in the election. How his loaded words may drive the nation in the weeks ahead remains to be seen.

His and his campaign's call for an "army" of "able-bodied" volunteers to "go into the polls" and "watch very carefully" as a "rigged election" unfolds sounds like an appeal for voter intimidation on his behalf. If anybody on either side of the blue-red divide crosses a legal line or does something crazy, rest assured Trump will never accept responsibility for inciting it, like when a self-described Trump superfan, Cesar Sayoc, sent mail bombs in 2018 to Democrats and institutions Trump had attacked.

Trump's provocations against state health authorities and federal experts began before the most recent Black Lives Matter protests. He stoked doubt about masks to curb spreading the coronavirus and agitated against local and state decisions on when and how to reopen businesses and schools. Critics say Trump's undermining of civic information helps worsen the pandemic.

Trump's unfairness doctrine

Portraying himself as a victorious victim, Trump complained Thursday about plans being made by the presidential debate commission to adjust its rules for the next debates, two days after his persistent interruptions of Biden and moderator Chris Wallace caused chaos in the first encounter.

"Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?" Trump tweeted. (Reputable polls by Politico/Morning Consult, CNBC/Change Research and CNN found that Biden won.)

On a conference call with reporters, campaign communications strategist Jason Miller said, "There shouldn’t be any changes. We don’t want any changes," but there was no ultimatum that Trump would not attend if changes were made. Whether his health will allow participation is now another matter.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Biden maintains a 9-point lead over Trump after Tuesday night's debate, which is unchanged, and leads 50%-41% among likely voters, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. The survey also found 87% of Americans have settled on their choice. Only 10% of likely Democratic voters and 15% of likely Republican voters appeared to be wavering.
  • Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett signed a 2006 newspaper ad sponsored by an anti-abortion group that opposed "abortion on demand" and defended "the right to life from fertilization to the end of natural life." The ad is sure to intensify debate on whether she would rule to restrict, if not overturn, abortion rights. It was not included in materials Barrett provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee for pending confirmation hearings, The Associated Press reported.
  • Trump has been the world's biggest driver of COVID-19 misinformation during the pandemic, a study from Cornell University said Thursday. On the topic of "miracle cures," Trump caused spikes in interest on unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine and by musing on the possibility of using cleaning disinfectants inside the body.
  • For the first time since the pandemic started, the Biden campaign will soon launch door-to-door canvassing across several battleground states, using volunteers outfitted with personal protective equipment and undergoing temperature checks, The Associated Press reported Thursday. Trump's campaign and his GOP allies have been aggressively courting voters at their doorsteps for months.
  • Retired four-star Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was fired by former President Barack Obama over comments that mocked several officials, including Biden, said Thursday he endorses Biden for president. "You have to believe your commander in chief, at the end of the day, is someone you can trust," McChrystal said on MSNBC.
  • Total spending for the White House race and congressional contests is expected to reach a record-shattering $10.8 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Biden's September fundraising broke the monthly record he set in August of $364.5, but the exact figure wasn't out yet, The New York Times reported.

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