First Thing election special: Trump's breathless White House return

Tim Walker
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Erin Scott/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Erin Scott/Reuters

Good morning. For the remainder of election season, First Thing will be dedicated to covering the biggest stories from the campaign trail – and some smaller but no less relevant ones from off the beaten track. But today’s headline news is unavoidable …

A still-contagious Donald Trump returned to the White House from Walter Reed military hospital on Monday evening, and immediately removed his mask for a photo op on the Truman balcony, where he appeared to be short of breath as he posed for cameras. In a campaign video shot moments later, however, the president insisted he was better following three days of hospital treatment for Covid-19 – and perhaps even “immune” to the disease.

Trump’s reported desperation to leave hospital and get back to campaigning while still in the throes of the illness is a sign of his willingness to sacrifice anyone – even those closest to him – to spare himself the humiliation of a one-term presidency, writes Julian Borger: “He has produced a toxic workplace to the point of potential lethality.”

Trump’s team and the wider world might have hoped the president would learn something from his personal experience of the virus, writes Francine Prose:

We’d like to believe that suffering instructs and ennobles; that our grief, fear and pain increases our sympathy for the grief, fear and pain of others. But again, Donald Trump seems to be ineducable, impervious to shame, guilt, or any sense of personal responsibility, unaffected by anything except vanity, selfishness and reckless self-regard.

Watch: Trump's doctor says he's 'cautiously optimistic'

Fauci thinks an experimental antibody treatment helped Trump

The administration’s top coronavirus expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, warned on Monday that Trump was “still early” in the potential progression of Covid-19, and that the president could yet suffer a “reversal”. Doctors at Walter Reed also explained that although Trump had met the criteria for discharge, he was “not yet out of the woods”.

In the same interview with CNN, Dr Fauci said he suspected that Trump’s condition had improved thanks to an experimental antibody cocktail from the drugmaker Regeneron, which is yet to be approved by the FDA but was administered to Trump on “compassionate” grounds.

  • Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifler is a longtime Trump acquaintance, and a member of the president’s Westchester golf club. Shares in his firm soared 7% on Monday.

Biden’s blunt message to Trump: ‘masks matter’

A recent poll found that two in three people believe Trump bears some personal responsibility for having caught the coronavirus. Appearing at an NBC television town hall event in Miami on Monday night, Joe Biden said he agreed with them. “Anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying, masks don’t matter, social distancing doesn’t matter, I think is responsible for what happens to them,” the Democratic nominee told Lester Holt.

I would hope that the president having gone through what he went through – and I’m glad he seems to be coming along pretty well – would communicate the right lesson to the American people. Masks matter. These masks, they matter. It matters. It saves lives. It prevents the spread of the disease.

A vice-presidential debate with the highest of stakes

Mike Pence has tested negative for Covid-19, and the coronavirus protections will be even stricter at Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate in Ann Arbor than they were at last week’s clash between Trump and Biden, with Pence and his opponent, Kamala Harris, to be separated by plexiglass barriers.

Yet the virus will nonetheless be unavoidable at an event featuring two running mates whose readiness to take over the top job is more relevant than ever, writes David Smith. Trump’s infection has raised the question of whether Pence might have to assume the presidency before 3 November. And there is widespread speculation that Biden, who will be 78 by inauguration day, intends to be a one-term president and pass the torch to Harris in 2024.

In other election news …

Melania Trump
Melania Trump called Stormy Daniels ‘the porn hooker’’ Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP
  • Melania Trump discussed Stormy Daniels on a tape secretly recorded by her then-friend, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, in which the first lady called the adult film star, who claims she had an affair with her husband, “the porn hooker”.

  • The head of a Christian organisation designated an LGBTQ+ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center attended the White House event announcing Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s pick for the supreme court.

Stat of the day

At least 30 people have now tested positive in the Trump Covid-19 outbreak, by Politico’s count – including at least 11 people who helped to put on the presidential debate in Cleveland, and three members of the White House press corps.

Don’t miss this

At Wisconsin’s April primary, more than 79,000 mail-in ballots arrived after election day and were only counted thanks to a court order. in 2016, Trump won the state by just under 23,000 votes. Sam Levine reports on the legal battles over voting in states across the US, and how they could still affect the outcome in November.

Watch: Your Voice, Your Vote: The Breakdown - President Trump to be discharged Monday night

View from the right

Trump seemed to think returning to the White House and removing his mask would project strength, the anti-Trump Republican Tim Miller writes for The Bulwark. Instead, it was just plain weird.

A madman, his face pancaked under a 2mm coat of orange powder, jacked up on steroids, straining to breathe—and not caring a whit about those around him.

Last Thing: the art of the Trump era

Trump’s presidential term has inspired a vibrant array of art and pop culture, not all of it complimentary. Guardian writers reflect on examples from architecture to comedy, while Nadja Sayej reports on a new auction by top artists to raise funds for the Biden campaign.

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