The World’s Eyes Are on Walter Reed

Trump’s team tries to reassure the public about his health, while a new poll finds most Americans don’t think he took the proper safety precautions to avoid the virus. It’s Monday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

President Trump, seeking to allay fears about his condition as he battles the coronavirus, did a drive-by procession on Sunday afternoon outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from the safety of an S.U.V. — but the presence of two Secret Service agents in the front seat raised questions about whether the stunt had put people who work for him at risk.

Moments before getting into the vehicle, Trump released a video in which he tried to spin his infection into a positive, framing it as a thing of the past — and maybe even a rare teachable moment.

“It’s been a very interesting journey; I learned a lot about Covid,” Trump said, later adding: “I get it and I understand it and it’s a very interesting thing and I’m going to be letting you know about it. In the meantime, we love the U.S.A., and we love what’s happening.”

But Trump’s core advisers and his medical team have had a hard time straightening out the story coming out of Walter Reed. The saga began in the wee hours of Friday, when Trump announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for the virus.

That evening, in what our critic James Poniewozik called “possibly the most striking helicopter liftoff from the White House lawn since Richard Nixon’s after his resignation,” the president headed to the military hospital, where he has been receiving treatment ever since.

On Saturday, his doctors gave an overall rosy report on his condition, saying he had not been administered oxygen. But that was at least partly contradicted immediately after the doctors’ news briefing by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, who asked while still being captured on TV cameras to go off the record before acknowledging the gravity of Trump’s condition.

The president’s physician, Sean Conley, acknowledged on Sunday that the president had in fact been given oxygen days earlier, saying he had intentionally given misleading statements about the president’s health the day before to avoid causing alarm.

“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, that his course of illness, has had,” Conley said. “In doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”

Conley also walked back statements from the day before about the president’s diagnosis timeline. On Saturday, he had said the president was “72 hours into the diagnosis,” suggesting that the president would have tested positive on Wednesday — just a day after he had shared the stage with Joe Biden at the first presidential debate, and more than one full day before he announced the positive test results.

Biden’s campaign announced on Friday and then again on Sunday that he had tested negative for the virus — but it could take another week or so for an infection to show up in tests.

A number of top Republicans at the White House and in the Senate have tested positive in the past few days. It has become hard not to notice that more than half a dozen of those people attended Trump’s Supreme Court nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26. The riskiest part of the event, experts say, was a reception inside the White House.

Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, was forced to postpone the Senate’s return for two weeks after three G.O.P. senators fell ill with the virus. But he has pledged to push ahead with Barrett’s confirmation hearings anyway.

The Senate Judiciary Committee announced on Saturday that the panel would begin four days of confirmation hearings on Oct. 12 as planned. “Certainly,” McConnell said, “all Republican members of the committee will participate in these important hearings.”

Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have all tested positive. Others who may have been exposed, including James Lankford of Oklahoma, have tested negative but have gone into quarantine.

Polls had long shown Tillis trailing his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, in the race for his Senate seat before the positive virus test made it clear that Tillis would have to leave the campaign trail temporarily. (Cunningham, who debated Tillis in person on Thursday, tested negative on Saturday.)

But in a Newtonian twist, what might be an equal and opposite revelation shook the North Carolina race again less than three hours later. A series of flirtatious texts between Cunningham, who is married, and a public relations strategist based in California were made public. Cunningham, a military veteran and former state senator who has risen thanks largely to a moderate, do-no-harm style of campaigning, immediately made a public apology. “I have hurt my family, disappointed my friends, and am deeply sorry,” he said.

It’s not yet clear what effect Tillis’s diagnosis and the leaked text messages, which appeared to be from July, will have on the race, or on Barrett’s confirmation hearing. Tillis plans to isolate for 10 days, although he said on Friday that he had not experienced any symptoms.

Photo of the day

President Trump briefly left the hospital yesterday to drive by cheering supporters.

Trump’s numbers sink in polls taken after the debate but before the news of his diagnosis.

Trump’s performance in the first presidential debate last week did little to endear him to undecided voters, polling released this weekend showed. And other survey results indicated that his coronavirus diagnosis so far has had little impact on his long odds of re-election.

Two New York Times/Siena College surveys of Florida and Pennsylvania found that voters in both states overwhelmingly disapproved of Trump’s conduct on the debate stage; just 22 percent in Pennsylvania and 28 percent in Florida said they approved of his debate performance.

Compared with another Times/Siena poll of Pennsylvania conducted in the days leading up to the debate, there was a notable drop in the share of voters there saying that Trump possesses a presidential temperament.

The new surveys of Pennsylvania and Florida began interviews on Wednesday, before Trump’s announcement early Friday that he had contracted the coronavirus. There was modest evidence of a shift toward Biden in interviews on Friday, including some in a separate Times/Siena poll of Arizona that’s currently in progress. But given the relatively small sample size, it’s hard to say much for certain.

Separate polls on the national level offered more bad news for Trump. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted in the days after the debate found Biden leading Trump by 14 percentage points among registered voters, his widest lead of the campaign season in NBC/Journal polling.

By a two-to-one margin, voters in that poll were more likely to say Biden had won the debate. At a similar rate, respondents tended to say that Biden had the better temperament to be president.

A separate poll conducted by ABC News and Ipsos in the days after Trump announced his positive test found that the diagnosis did not strongly affect the public’s view of him or his handling of the virus. Thirty-five percent of Americans approved of his approach on the pandemic, on par with another ABC/Ipsos poll a month before.

Just 27 percent said they thought the president had taken appropriate precautions with regard to his own health.

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