Donald Trump’s family finally bowed to pressure and wore face masks at the second and final televised debate between the president and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden on Thursday evening, having faced intense criticism for failing to do so at the first.
First lady Melania Trump, White House adviser Ivanka Trump, her siblings Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump and sister-in-law Lara Trump all trooped into the auditorium at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, wearing face coverings, a significant concession after their refusal to abide by public health regulations last time out in Cleveland, Ohio, on 29 September.
The president’s entourage were attacked for not wearing face coverings at last month’s event, arriving at Case Western Reserve University in masks before discarding them when they sat in the front row and reportedly rebuffing a site doctor who asked them to comply.
The president and first lady then announced that they too had contracted Covid-19 a day later, throwing the election race into turmoil.
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The drama continued over the following week as Mr Trump was flown to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, to recuperate as the virus tore through the West Wing, with many more senior Republicans and staffers taken ill.
Their number included press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, ex-White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, GOP chairman Ronna McDaniel, senators Mike Lee, Thom Tillis and Ron Johnson and ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
The outbreak was traced back to an event held in the White House Rose Garden the Saturday prior to the first debate, at which the president had unveiled conservative federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett as his choice to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the ninth Supreme Court justice, her nomination so close to the 3 November ballot already a source of major controversy even without the spread of the contagion.
There was speculation Mr Trump may have already had coronavirus at the first debate, and could have risked infecting Mr Biden, who, at 77, would have been placed in considerable danger by the respiratory sickness, which has now claimed 222,000 American lives.
To avoid a repeat performance, the Commission on Presidential Debates had this time ruled that anyone who declined to wear a mask would be thrown out of the event.
While the Trumps did abide by the new rule when entering, several members of the family were later photographed without their masks when the clash got underway.
The debate itself proved to be a far more civil encounter than the first, with NBC moderator Kristen Welker policing the two candidates well and ensuring an orderly exchange with far fewer angry interruptions.
Mr Biden was widely felt to have won the night, taking the president to task for his inept response to the pandemic – exemplified by his own diagnosis with a disease he had initially dismissed as a hoax – and attacking his dubious record in office and his murky financial affairs.
It was revealed earlier this week that Mr Trump holds a “secret” Chinese bank account.
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