Trump holds pub­lic rally at White House

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - NATION - By Jonathan Lemire and Aamer Madhani Jonathan Lemire and Aamer Madhani are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump on Satur­day made his first pub­lic ap­pear­ance af­ter be­ing hos­pi­tal­ized for the coro­n­avirus, de­fy­ing pub­lic health guide­lines to speak to a crowd of hun­dreds even as the White House re­fused to de­clare that he was not con­ta­gious.

Trump took off a mask mo­ments af­ter he emerged on the White House bal­cony to ad­dress the crowd on the lawn be­low, his first step back onto the pub­lic stage with just more than three weeks to go un­til elec­tion day. But, five days af­ter Trump re­turned from Wal­ter Reed Med­i­cal Cen­ter, his health re­mained a mys­tery as White House of­fi­cials re­fused to re­veal if he had tested neg­a­tive or whether he was still at risk of spread­ing the virus.

His re­turn was a brief one. With ban­dages vis­i­ble on his hands, likely from an in­tra­venous in­jec­tion, Trump spoke for 18 min­utes, far less than at his nor­mal hour­plus ral­lies. He ap­peared healthy, if per­haps a lit­tle hoarse, as he de­liv­ered what was, for all in­tents and pur­poses, a short ver­sion of his cam­paign speech de­spite the ex­ec­u­tive man­sion set­ting.

Though billed as an of­fi­cial event, Trump of­fered no pol­icy pro­pos­als and in­stead de­liv­ered the usual at­tacks on Demo­crat Joe Bi­den while prais­ing law en­force­ment to a crowd of sev­eral hun­dred, most of whom wore masks while few ad­hered to so­cial dis­tanc­ing guide­lines.

“I’m feel­ing great,” said Trump, who said he was thank­ful for their good wishes and prayers as he re­cov­ered. He then de­clared that the pan­demic, which has killed more than 210,000 Amer­i­cans, was “dis­ap­pear­ing” even though he is still re­cov­er­ing from the virus.

In either an act of de­fi­ance or sim­ply tempt­ing fate, of­fi­cials or­ga­nized the crowd just steps from the Rose Gar­den, where ex­actly two weeks ago the pres­i­dent held an­other large gath­er­ing to for­mally an­nounce his nom­i­na­tion of Judge Amy Coney Bar­rett to the Supreme Court. That event is now be­ing eyed as a pos­si­ble COVID19 su­per­spreader as more than two dozen peo­ple in at­ten­dance have con­tracted the virus.

Trump had hoped to hold cam­paign ral­lies this week­end but set­tled for the White House event. But even as his health re­mained un­clear, he planned to ramp up his travel with a rally in Florida on Mon­day, fol­lowed by trips to Penn­syl­va­nia and Iowa on sub­se­quent days. It was not clear if Trump posed a risk to those he would fly with on Air Force One or en­counter at the rally sites.

Be­fore the speech, White House of­fi­cials said they had no in­for­ma­tion to re­lease on whether the pres­i­dent was tested for COVID19, mean­ing he made his first pub­lic ap­pear­ance with­out the White House ver­i­fy­ing that he’s no longer con­ta­gious.

Se­cu­rity was stepped up around the White House be­fore the event, which was called a “peace­ful protest for law & or­der” and pre­dom­i­nantly at­tended by Black and Latino sup­port­ers. Po­lice and the Se­cret Ser­vice closed sur­round­ing streets to ve­hi­cles and shut down Lafayette Square, the park near the White House that has long been a gath­er­ing place for pub­lic protest.

As ques­tions linger about his health — and Demo­cratic op­po­nent Joe Bi­den steps up his own cam­paign­ing — Trump has more fre­quently called into ra­dio and TV pro­grams to speak with con­ser­va­tive in­ter­view­ers, hop­ing to make up for lost time with just over three weeks un­til Elec­tion Day and mil­lions al­ready vot­ing.

Bi­den’s cam­paign said he again tested neg­a­tive on Satur­day for COVID19. Bi­den was po­ten­tially ex­posed to the coro­n­avirus dur­ing his Sept. 29 de­bate with Trump, who an­nounced his pos­i­tive di­ag­no­sis barely 48 hours af­ter the de­bate.

Sa­muel Co­rum / Getty Images

Pres­i­dent Trump speaks to a crowd of hun­dreds even as the White House re­fused to de­clare that he was not con­ta­gious.

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