President Donald Trump on Saturday made his first public appearance since returning from a three-day hospitalization due to coronavirus, addressing hundreds of Black and Latino supporters crowded together on the White House lawn.
“First of all, I’m feeling great. I don’t know about you,” Trump told the estimated audience of 500 who, despite wearing masks, were packed together below the Truman Balcony where he spoke. According to a person familiar with the event, more than 2,000 guests had been invited.
Trump kept his comments to the cheering crowd shorter than usual, speaking for less than 17 minutes a day after going for nearly two hours on a talk radio show. The event, billed by the White House as a “peaceful protest” for law and order, was organized by right-wing activist Candace Owens and her group Blexit.
The relatively brief speech touched on all of the main points of Trump’s stump speech — despite the White House insisting it was an official event rather than a political one — with Trump attacking Democrats, running through the latest polling data and recapping his first debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden and this week’s vice presidential debate.
The speech was tailored slightly to include an emphasis on criminal justice issues, and Trump’s plans to boost Black Americans.
But otherwise, the president mounted his usual attacks against mail-in voting, lauded his administration’s coronavirus response and again teased a “much better” health care plan that he has yet to release.
The event on the South Lawn on Saturday was the first since Trump gathered dozens in the Rose Garden two weeks ago to announce his choice of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Though it’s unclear where Trump contracted coronavirus, at least eight people who attended the announcement have since tested positive, leading the nation’s top infectious diseases expert to decry it as a “super spreader” event. Since the announcement, more White House aides, Trump’s reelection campaign manager and members of the White House press corps also tested positive.
For Trump’s speech on Saturday, guests were only screened for Covid-19 with a temperature check and “brief questionnaire" — but not a test.
At the same time, critical details of Trump’s health remain shrouded in mystery.
His doctors and the White House have declined to reveal when the president’s last negative test was before announcing his diagnosis early last Friday. They have similarly refused to say whether Trump has received a negative test since then, leaving open the possibility that Trump is still contagious, or whether Trump suffered any lung damage as a result of his bout with the respiratory disease.
Even as those questions remain, Trump is set to resume traveling for the campaign, announcing rallies on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week as Election Day draws nearer.
In his speech on Saturday Trump appeared healthy, delivering his remarks without coughing or sounding winded. Close-ups of the president taken by press photographers showed bandaging on his right hand, potentially at the spot of insertion of an IV.
After about a quarter of an hour, Trump bid the crowd farewell with a plea for them to get out and vote, thanking them and sending them off with an “I love you” before turning and heading back into the White House without putting his mask back on.