Presidential campaign upended and uncertain after Trump tests positive

Trump and his wife entered self-quarantine Friday for at least a week. Biden briefly delayed an afternoon appearance in Grand Rapids, Mich., but went ahead after testing negative earlier in the day. The two remaining presidential debates remained in limbo.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential contender, who also recently tested negative, planned to move forward with a scheduled drive-in event in Las Vegas. Vice President Pence, who also has tested negative, planned to resume his campaign schedule. They are still scheduled to meet in Utah on Wednesday for a nationally televised debate.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said Friday that all previously announced campaign events with Trump would be conducted virtually or postponed, as would events scheduled for his family. All other campaign events are being reconsidered on a case-by-case basis.

“The campaign office remains open and our nationwide team will continue with our efforts to reelect President Trump,” Stepien wrote in the memo to staff.

Stepien asked campaign officials who had contact with someone testing positive to immediately self-quarantine, and those who did not have direct contact to wear a mask, wash their hands and practice social distancing, guidelines that have long been applied unevenly by the Trump operation.

Trump campaign officials Friday were already discussing how to get him to appear in public safely. The president is unlikely to travel for seven to 10 days.

Both campaigns were struggling to adjust to the historically unprecedented event of a presidential candidate — let alone the incumbent — contracting a potentially deadly infectious disease just weeks before the election. The challenge is even more explosive because the coronavirus has been a central issue in the campaign itself, with Biden sharply criticizing Trump’s handling of the pandemic and Trump mocking Biden’s safety precautions.

The president’s illness could undercut one of the central messages of his campaign over the closing weeks. His advisers had mapped out an extensive schedule for his travel — including events in Florida, Wisconsin and Arizona that are likely to be canceled. His stump speech was expected to focus on the economy and the Supreme Court vacancy — while giving a more hopeful message on the virus.

Polls have shown a high correlation between concern over the virus and support for Biden, prompting Trump and his allies to focus on downplaying the threat and describing the illness as in retreat, though it continues to spread around the country, with cases rising sharply in some states.

Still, if Trump’s case turns out to be relatively mild and he recovers quickly, it arguably could play into his efforts to minimize the threat posed by pandemic to most people, although more than 200,000 Americans, and more than 1 million worldwide, have died of it.

Trump and his surrogates have been campaigning across the country with large crowds and inconsistent mask-wearing, in violation of health guidelines. His allies were privately frustrated that the diagnosis would bring the worst story line for the president — his handling of the coronavirus — back to the fore.

“We had the greatest economy in history and we had to close it down because we would have lost millions of lives, and now we’re opening it up and we’re doing it at a level like nobody’s ever seen before, and it’s a great thing, and we’re going to be back in business very soon,” Trump said at a rally Wednesday in Duluth, Minn.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Friday that anyone who had direct contact with Trump during his visit to the state should self-quarantine and get a test five to seven days after the interaction, as should anyone who attended the Duluth rally and develops symptoms.

“People should consider getting tested even if they do not have symptoms because some people may not develop or recognize symptoms and people can spread the virus even without displaying symptoms,” the statement said.

Trump’s rally in Minnesota occurred after the head of the Republican Party, Ronna McDaniel, had also tested positive for the virus. A Republican official said Friday that McDaniel received her result Wednesday afternoon, after another member of her family tested positive.

The night before returning home to Michigan, on Sept. 25, she attended a fundraiser with Trump. She participated in a campaign bus tour across Michigan earlier in the week.

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), a co-chairman of the Biden campaign, said it was “too early to tell” how the news would impact the campaign, including how it would affect the upcoming debates, the campaign’s ad strategy or Biden’s travel schedule.

“We wish him well with his health,” he said of Trump.

Referencing the Biden campaign’s caution on the campaign trail, he added, “We certainly did it for a reason.”

Biden campaign advisers on Friday morning were taken aback by the news, but regular campaign calls went forward in the morning as scheduled. The campaign has largely viewed the race’s dynamics as stable amid chaotic developments — racial unrest, an aggressive law-and-order message from Trump, a Supreme Court nomination. Campaign leaders were unlikely to change that view because of Trump’s positive test result.

That result, however, did set off a flurry of activity among Biden’s staffers and supporters who were in the debate hall on Tuesday night in Ohio. White House adviser Hope Hicks, who participated in debate prep with Trump and traveled on Air Force One on Wednesday, has also tested positive for the virus.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) said he was tested Friday morning with a negative result. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), another top Biden ally, was also tested Friday morning and was self-isolating while awaiting results.

Harris, Biden’s running mate, was tested Thursday as part of the campaign’s routine testing of principals and tested negative, according to a Harris aide.

The Biden campaign has been pressing the Commission on Presidential Debates to change the format of Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate from the current plan, which is to have a seated exchange where the candidates are about seven feet apart, to a standing debate where the candidates are behind lecterns and about 12 feet apart, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Pence’s team has wanted the debate to be seated. “The pressure is on the commission to err on the side of safety right now,” said the person, who is not authorized to publicly discuss internal campaign deliberations.

Kristin Urquiza, who sat in the front row as one of Biden’s guests for the debate, sharply criticized Trump and his family for not wearing masks.

“The Trump family exposed every attendee at the debate: guests, workers, members of Congress, Secret Service agents, members of the media, and janitors to a deadly virus that has killed 205,000 Americans to date,” she said. “Irresponsible is an understatement: This is criminal.”

Urquiza was invited to the debate to represent her father, who died in June at age 65, and she has co-founded a group called Marked By Covid. She said she is working to get tested as soon as possible and would self-quarantine until she knew she wasn’t putting others at risk.

“I am terrified,” she said. “I know the darkest result of covid-19: an undignified and lonesome death.”

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) was in the debate hall Tuesday night and also expressed anger at the way the Trump entourage refused to wear masks at the event. On the Biden side of the debate hall, everyone was wearing masks, he said. He expressed frustration that the debate commission did not enforce mask-wearing by Trump’s family and advisers.

“The rules don’t apply to them,” Ryan said.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, a close Biden ally, said in an interview Friday morning that the former vice president has been a model for exercising safety in his campaign, and he does not need to change anything in the wake of Trump contracting the virus.

“I think the most important thing that they can do is continue doing what they’ve been doing,” Rendell said. “And we should all point to them.”

Rendell sidestepped a question about whether Biden should pause his advertising, saying that decision is up to the campaign.

The former governor said Pennsylvania allies have a virtual fundraiser planned for Friday afternoon, with Biden scheduled to speak. It had not been canceled as of Friday morning, he said, adding that the event had already raised $5 million.

A spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he would move forward as scheduled with the confirmation process for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was last with the president on Saturday, when the president announced her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Judge Barrett is tested daily for covid-19 — she has tested negative,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said. “She is following [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance and best practices, including social distancing, wearing face coverings, and frequently washes hands.”

Josh Dawsey, Toluse Olorunnipa and Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.