White House: Trump looking to 'project image of strength' even as recovers from virus

The president tweeted he's "FEELING GREAT" as he remains on medication.

October 6, 2020, 1:31 PM

A top adviser to President Donald Trump, defending his return to the White House in a made-for-tv moment Monday night, said Tuesday it's "highly important" he is seen "projecting an image of strength" and that Americans could expect to hear from him at some point a day after he left the hospital still infected and undergoing treatment.

To drive the point home, he tweeted Tuesday morning, "FEELING GREAT!" in all capital letters, continuing to downplay the danger by again falsely comparing the coronavirus to nothing worse than the flu.

He was said to be considering an address to the nation but that no decisions had been made.

President Donald Trump pulls off his protective face mask as he poses atop the Truman Balcony of the White House after returning from being hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment, Oct. 5, 2020.
Erin Scott/Reuters

Tuesday's developments follow his dramatic exit out the golden front doors of Walter Reed Medical Center, the masked president walked down the tiered steps of the hospital to his awaiting motorcade. After flying over Washington in a ten-minute helicopter that coincided with the national evening newscasts, the president emerged from Marine One and climbed the steps to the South Portico, determined to show he had beaten the virus.

In an unmistakable message, the still-contagious president then removed his mask as he paused there for two minutes and gazed into the distance and saluted as Marine One lifted off, posing for the cameras.

President Donald Trump stands on the balcony outside of the Blue Room as returns to the White House, Oct. 5, 2020, after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.
Alex Brandon/AP

His mask still off, the president then turned to walk inside the Blue Room of the White House, where people could be seen inside.

The president then taped a video message that was later posted to his Twitter account along with a promotional video, set to dramatic music, of his return.

“I learned so much about coronavirus. And one thing that's for certain: Don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it. You're gonna beat it,” Trump said into the camera.

“Don't let it dominate. Don't let it take over your lives. Don't let that happen,” Trump said.

The president’s defiant declaration came after he just spent three days hospitalized because of his condition and as he now undergoes continued care from the comforts of the presidential residence.

“I went, I didn't feel so good. And two days ago -- I could have left two days ago -- two days ago, I felt great -- like better than I have in a long time. I said just recently, 'better than 20 years ago,’” Trump said.

He later added: “And now I'm better, and maybe I'm immune; I don't know.”

"In times like this it’s highly important that the commander-in-chief express confidence to our domestic population but very important to our allies and adversaries watching closely to see is he projecting an image of strength. And that's what he did last night,” White House Communications Director Farah said on Fox News, confirming the intent of the choreographed moments that played out at the same time millions of Americans were tuning in to watching national evening news broadcasts.

Farah said the president is so energetic that senior staff are having to tell him to take it easy.

“The president is improving dramatically and quickly. But listen, we understand he is not out of the woods and continuing to be monitored by his doctor and medical team here. He is energetic. It’s taking senior staff around him to say let's slow down the pace," she said. "But he is working."

She insisted that “precautions were taken” when the president took off his mask Monday night, despite the fact that he did so in proximity to a White House photographer. In defending the president’s lack of a mask, she emphasized that those around the president know to wear one.

“With regard to the photographer, this was a brief interaction. What we know about this virus is it’s prolonged exposure and contact. Our photographers know to wear masks. We know when we work with the president, wear your mask, keep your distance. I think this is much ado about nothing by the media. I would say this the world and American people needed to see the their president strong and leading and that is what he is doing,” she said.

Now back at the White House, there are new questions about how strictly the still-contagious president is isolating from others in a residence that is staffed by a cadre of butlers, housekeepers, and other residence staff. Sources said the Map Room and Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House residence have been outfitted as remote working spaces for the president.

It is unclear if President Trump plans to wear a mask at all times when out of his own quarters and around others, but Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said that “physical access to the President will be significantly limited and appropriate PPE will be worn when near him.”

Deere also said that “every precaution necessary” is being taken to “to protect not only him and the First Family, but every staff member working on the complex to support the federal government’s operations consistent with CDC guidelines and best practices.”

Whatever the president has learned from his own personal experience with the virus, his public commentary since proves that it has not changed his political outlook in handling the virus nor has it prompted any discernible self-reflection of his own actions.

Since his diagnosis on Thursday, the president has received the best possible medical care beyond what is afforded to normal patients and has been administered supplemental oxygen on at least two confirmed occasions. He also has been treated with experimental drugs. remains on a course of Remdesivir, and is still taking a steroid that experts say is typically only administered for severe cases of the virus.

In a statement midday Tuesday, White House Physician Dr. Sean Conley said Trump, who appeared to be short of breath Monday night, was showing no symptoms. "Overall he continues to do extremely well," Conley said.

The president caught the virus after eschewing a mask for months and defying the safety recommendations of his administration’s top health experts who have warned against large gatherings amid the pandemic. The president has held large outdoor campaign rallies and events at the White House, justifying his cavalier approach because of a system of rapid-testing individuals who come into close contact with the president that has now been shown to be faulty.

According to an ABC News tally, at least 18 people have tested positive for COVID-19 related to the White House.

But the president’s message following his and the first lady’s infection: He doesn’t regret it.

“As your leader, I had to do that. I knew there's danger to it. But I had to do it. I stood out front. I led. Nobody that's a leader would not do what I did. And I know there's a risk, there's a danger -- but that's okay,” Trump said.

Waking up back at the White House Tuesday, the president was back to his old ways in making misleading comparisons to the seasonal flu on Twitter, urging the country to learn to live with the deadly coronavirus.

"Flu season is coming up!" Trump wrote in the tweet. "Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!"

With more than 210 thousand American lives now lost to the coronavirus, the president also wrote that “many people every year, sometimes over 100,000” die of the seasonal flu “despite the vaccine.” But in reality, between 12,000 – 61,000 people have died from the flu annually since 2010, according to CDC estimates.

Facebook removed the message. “We remove incorrect information about the severity of COVID-19, and have now removed this post,” a Facebook spokeperson, Andy Stone, told ABC News in a statement.

Twitter left the message up but covered it up with a message that said it violated the platform’s rules “about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19.”

The president’s latest tweet on the flu is consistent with prior comments comparing the virus to the flu and playing down its danger publicly.

Even as the president acknowledged in a private conversation to Bob Woodward that he intentionally played down the virus, he also acknowledged privately to Woodward that the virus is "more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

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