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Trump And The First Lady Have Tested Positive For The Coronavirus. What Happens Now?


President Trump has repeatedly tried to convince Americans that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. But the president himself and the first lady have now tested positive for the coronavirus. They are staying at the White House with an election only a month away. To talk about how this all unfolded overnight and where we stand at this point, we have NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with us. Hi, Tam.


GREENE: I guess the first question - how are the president and first lady doing? Do we know?

KEITH: Yeah. The White House physician put out a memo saying they are both well at this time and that he and others on the medical team will maintain a vigilant watch. He added, quote, "rest assured, I expect the president to continue carrying out his duties without disruption." And that is important because that means Vice President Pence doesn't have to step in at this point. A spokesman tells us that both the vice president and second lady, Karen Pence, were tested this morning and were negative. As for the president and the first lady, they are staying at home at the White House. And an official tells me that the president was in good spirits and that the doctor is optimistic. Coronavirus, though, is an unpredictable disease. For some people, it can be terrible and deadly. For others, there are no symptoms at all. And we have no way of knowing how it will affect the first lady or President Trump. But at 74 years old, he is in a high-risk group.

GREENE: And certainly not out of the woods. I mean, as we've seen, people can develop symptoms, you know, days after getting a positive test. So we'll have to be watching, of course. Do we have any idea what happened here? I mean, how the president and first lady might have been exposed to the virus?

KEITH: We don't know the chain there, but we did learn last night that a close aide to the president, Hope Hicks, had tested positive. She had been traveling with the president a lot, including flying with him on Air Force One to his campaign rally in Minnesota on Wednesday.

At around 9:30 last night, Trump called in to Sean Hannity's show on Fox News and said that he had been tested and was awaiting results. Then about 1 a.m., President Trump tweeted that he and the first lady had gotten those results and that they both tested positive. A White House official tells me that they're working to figure out how to keep conducting the business of the presidency with the president having to stay at home. The person said the president is going to want to be engaged. He told me, quote, "He's not one to sit still."

GREENE: That is something we know. I mean, he has not been sitting still. He's been out on the campaign trail, very active and, as many people have noted, at rallies, you know, many of them outdoors, airplane hangars - but, you know, a lot of people without masks. It's going to lead a lot of people to wonder, was he taking enough precautions? Was the White House doing enough to prevent this?

KEITH: President Trump had been taking risks every single day. People who are in his close proximity do get tested regularly. He is tested regularly. But the White House leaned heavily on those tests and arguably let their guard down. Trump has been holding, as you say, these big rallies, a couple of them indoors. Just yesterday, he held a fundraiser at his Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey. And, you know, Trump and those around him don't regularly wear masks in public or in private, at the White House or on Air Force One. And at Tuesday night's debate, Trump even mocked his opponent, Joe Biden, for his frequent mask wearing.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: When needed, I wear masks.

CHRIS WALLACE: OK, let me ask...

TRUMP: I don't have - I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from me. And he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen.

KEITH: And we have now heard from Joe Biden. He sent a tweet saying that he and his wife, Jill, are praying for the health and safety of the president and his family and hoping for a swift recovery. We don't know yet if Biden's campaign will be changing anything as a result of this.

GREENE: I mean, it's just stunning to think about this moment. We have a presidential election four weeks away. We are still in the middle of a pandemic. And now the president of the United States, in the midst of running for reelection, has tested positive for a very dangerous virus. I mean, what - does this totally change the entire last phase of this campaign?

KEITH: Yes, absolutely. President Trump has staked his reelection on the idea that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. For months, he has created a bubble around himself where there was this image that COVID wasn't a concern, that everything was back to normal, that chairs were close together. There were no masks. But new development completely undermines that. I mean, the president of the United States has the virus. This is going to bring the danger home to people. It underscores that anyone can get it, even if you're the leader of the free world.

GREENE: All right. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. We're going to keep following this story, obviously, very closely as the hours and days go on. Thank you so much for sharing your reporting, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.