The nation was upended Friday by Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, but for critics, it comes as little surprise.
Although we know from taped conversations with Bob Woodward that the US president took the virus more seriously in private than he did in public, Trump, and many of those close to him, were famously cavalier about standard precautions recommended by health authorities.
On Friday, Mark Meadows spoke to the public without wearing a mask, for example, despite Trump’s positive test. “Yeah. So I’ve obviously been tested, we’re hopefully more than six feet away”, he told the media. “And if there’s any concern there, from a guidance standpoint, we have protocols in place”.
Those protocols did not protect Trump. One can’t help but be reminded of his exchange with Woodward in April, a period during which the president was publicly advocating for “packed” churches on Easter Sunday.
“Bob, it’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t believe it … I mean you could, you could be in the room … I was in the White House a couple of days ago, meeting with 10 people in the Oval Office and a guy sneezed — innocently. Not a horrible … you know, just a sneeze”, Trump said. “The entire room bailed out, OK? Including me, by the way”.
The president will be spending a few days at Walter Reed. In a video message delivered via tweet, Trump said he “thinks” he’s doing “very well”.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2020
Headed into the weekend, no one knew quite what to think. If Trump’s health were to deteriorate, some say it could foster bipartisanship around a national tragedy. Of course, America is already experiencing a multi-faceted national tragedy, and it would be “tragic” indeed if the president had to become seriously ill before lawmakers would consider reconciling differences in order to pull the country back from the cliff’s edge.
On the other hand, if the president has few symptoms and recovers quickly, some worry he may use that, Bolsonaro style, to support previous claims that otherwise “healthy” individuals need not concern themselves with the virus, which has killed more than 207,000 Americans.
Opinions are split on the impact Trump’s diagnosis could have on stimulus talks. Nancy Pelosi on Friday joined Steve Mnuchin in imploring airlines to delay job cuts (which number in the tens of thousands) until lawmakers could pass a new, targeted aid package for the industry. The two spoke for more than hour, continuing marathon talks that lasted all week.
As of Friday afternoon, there was still “significant disagreement” on a broader bill and the House adjourned until a pro-forma session on Monday without bringing an airline relief measure to the floor.
Equities stabilized in a choppy session that found the Dow and the S&P holding up relatively well considering the circumstances, while tech slumped. Ultimately, the S&P snapped a four-week losing streak.
Some analysts suggested Trump’s diagnosis could increase the urgency of virus relief talks, perhaps doing what nothing else has proven capable of — bridging the gap between Democrats’ $2.2 trillion bill passed by the House on Thursday evening, and The White House’s offer, which went as high as $1.62 trillion this week.
Still, Mitch McConnell remains an obstacle. He spoke to Trump Friday during what he described as a “great” call.
The FANG+ contingent dropped 2.8% to close the week. “The S&P 500 is in the red because tech stocks are lousy”, Bloomberg’s Andrew Cinko wrote midway through the session.
“[Tech shares] are by far the worst performers, along with communications companies, and account for nearly the entire S&P 500 decline”, Cinko went on to remark.
Oil plunged, on the way to a second weekly loss, and the largest since June. Obviously, Trump’s diagnosis brought virus fears back to the fore during a week that also saw New York report a smattering of worrying statistics, while Europe struggled to fend off a second wave.
Energy stocks are under siege and the job losses are mounting. Shell is set to trim 9,000 positions, in one high-profile example.
There are palpable concerns on Capitol Hill that new precautions need to be taken in light of events at The White House. Republican Senator Mike Lee said he tested positive. He sits on the Judiciary Committee, but insisted he’d be back to work in time to push Amy Coney Barrett through the process.
Speaking of Amy Coney Barrett, it turns out she had COVID over the summer, according to The Washington Post. A Notre Dame spokesman said she’s teaching this semester. She tested negative on Friday.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame president John Jenkins, who attended last weekend’s ceremony at The White House during which Trump introduced Coney Barrett as his third SCOTUS nominee, has tested positive. “During self-quarantine this week, President Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, learned that a colleague with whom he has been in regular contact tested positive for COVID-19”, a message to the campus community reads. “Jenkins was tested and found to be positive for COVID-19 too. As a result, he is entering an extended period of isolation as indicated by University medical personnel and county health officials”.
If you’re starting to get the impression that this is an epidemic, there are more than a million deceased individuals globally who would attest to that were they still among the living.
Even Fox News was forced to admit that the game may have changed. “The immediate reaction of a lot of people will be, ‘My goodness, if the president of the United States can get it, maybe I can, too'”, Stuart Varney mused.
Of course, you didn’t need the president to get sick to know that you can contract COVID. 7.3 million Americans (that we know of) have tested positive so far.
“In the week ahead, the fundamentals will take a backseat (or ‘up next’ since commuting references have gone the way of beta) to digesting the realities of Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis so close to the election”, BMO’s Ian Lyngen said, writing on Friday afternoon. “Regardless of one’s political leanings, a sitting President contracting a potentially fatal coronavirus for which there is no known cure is a national problem”.
Indeed it is. And yet, a Wall Street Journal headline on Friday reads that “wearing a mask will still be optional at The White House”. Vox later said mask wearing is mandatory in common areas.
Finally, The Washington Post said the Justice department and the FBI are preparing for civil unrest and possible violent clashes on election day. The DOJ intends to place personnel at FBI headquarters to craft a plan for a federal response.