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Trump diagnosis casts uncertainty over campaign, governance

The White House announced that President Donald Trump

The White House announced that President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus. Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis reverberated through the nation’s Capitol on Friday, throwing into flux the final leg of a tight race with former Vice President Joe Biden, the fate of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings and negotiations for a new coronavirus stimulus package.

Hours after Trump announced in a post-midnight tweet that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the disease, White House officials sought to project steadiness amid the uncertainty of how the disease would impact the president’s health in the coming days.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows described Trump’s symptoms as "mild." The president’s White House physician, Sean P. Connelly, said, "the president remains fatigued but in good spirits." By Friday evening White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump would be transported to Walter Reed Medical Center and remain working from there, "out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts."

With 32 days left until the election, the Trump campaign canceled events the president was set to headline in Florida and Wisconsin this weekend, and White House officials said it was uncertain if an upcoming Oct. 15 debate with Biden would proceed as planned. Biden, meanwhile, campaigned in the battleground state of Michigan, offering his well wishes to the president.

Mike Dawidziak, a Bohemia-based political strategist who worked on George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign, said that "without knowing what the effect the virus is going to have on [Trump’s] overall health, it's very difficult to say what effect it can have on the race … there are several ways this could go, as usual with Trump it's hold on to your hat."

As the White House worked to contain any further spread of the disease within its ranks, encouraging officials to work from home, Meadows said he expected there would be others who test positive in the coming days.

"We’ve got the mitigation plan in place to make sure the government not only continues to move forward, but the work of the American people continues to move forward," Meadows said.

Meadows’ remarks came amid revelations that Trump adviser Hope Hicks, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)all tested positive for the disease. Three White House reporters and a White House press aide also tested positive on Friday.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of Trump’s most vocal congressional defenders, said he had gotten "feedback" that the president had "been active" and "speaking with people from the residence," describing it as "a promising sign."

Zeldin defended the testing protocols already in place at the White House that mandate all those in proximity of the president undergo rapid testing, when asked if the president should have been stricter about wearing face masks and mandating his aides to wear masks.

"What I've personally witnessed going to the White House has been a multistep process with regards to mitigation and testing," Zeldin said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Friday urged Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to hold off on scheduling a hearing for U.S. Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett on her nomination to the Supreme Court. They cited Lee’s positive diagnosis as a reason to delay the hearings.

"It is premature for Chairman Graham to commit to a hearing schedule when we do not know the full extent of potential exposure stemming from the president’s infection and before the White House puts in place a contact tracing plan to prevent further spread of the disease," Schumer and Feinstein said.

"The unfortunate news about the infection of our colleague Senator Mike Lee makes even more clear that health and safety must guide the schedule for all Senate activities, including hearings," they added.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a morning tweet, dismissed the suggestion of delaying the hearings, saying after a phone conversation with Trump that it was "full steam ahead with the fair, thorough, timely process that the nominee, the court, & the country deserve."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC she was "optimistic" that Trump’s diagnosis would speed up talks on a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill, because Republican negotiators "see the reality of what we have been saying all along — this is a vicious virus."

Reaction from the LI congressional delegation

“My thoughts and prayers are for the full and early recovery of President Trump and the First Lady — for their sake and the health of the country. This should be a moment of unity. I commend Vice President Biden for his thoughtful statement.” — Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford)

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “I wish President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump and any White House staff members who are infected a speedy recovery. I join the nation in praying for the First Family’s health and safety … what happened to President Trump is a reminder of why the whole country, including Senators and staff, must follow the science and follow the protocols laid out by the CDC and public health officials. When you ignore the science, you don’t wear a mask, and you don’t follow social distancing guidelines, it puts you and everyone around you at risk. Following science is a must.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of the Trump’s fiercest congressional defenders, said: “I am getting feedback that he has been active today, and has been speaking with people from the residence, so that’s a promising sign.” Asked whether the president should have been stricter about wearing face masks and mandating his aides to wear masks, Zeldin defended the testing protocols in place at the White House: “What I’ve personally witnessed going to the White House has been a multistep process with regards to mitigation and testing.”

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said the Trumps’ positive coronavirus results show “this virus is not behind us yet.”

“He owes it to the American people to keep them updated on how he is dealing with the virus and hopefully recovering from it because it is important that the American people know how he’s doing and that he’s going to recover,” Rice said. “I hope that he will re-evaluate what he has been saying since back in March that we know fly in the face of what scientists tell us. Specifically about wearing masks and socially distancing from other people and washing our hands.”

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said: “I wish the President & the First Lady a speedy recovery. We all must continue to practice physical distancing, wear masks, & wash our hands multiple times a day.”

With Candice Ferrette, Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Michael Gormley

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