JOHN SOPEL: Coronavirus fear really stalks the West Wing

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I think I developed attention deficit disorder spanning the Trump presidency. So many things are happening so quickly. You sit down with a pen poised, ready to deliver an awe-inspiring analysis of why this is the most important thing that has happened since the Founding Fathers wrote the American constitution, to forget what you write.

Wasn’t there a report on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia? Has the president not been dismissed? It has only been two weeks since famous Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. It looks like months.

But it is really crucial. The most serious health episode to a sitting president in decades would be consecutive on its own, but only a month away from election day?

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign had already been out of control before he was airlifted to hospital this week after being diagnosed with Covid-19

It would be a merciful relief if there were no more presidential debates this election

It would be a merciful relief if there were no more presidential debates this election

The world was first alerted to a problem when it emerged that Trump adviser Hope Hicks, left, pictured with White House adviser Jared Kushner, had contracted Covid-19

The world was first alerted to a problem when it emerged that Trump adviser Hope Hicks, left, pictured with White House adviser Jared Kushner, had contracted Covid-19

An election campaign already out of control has been completely turned upside down. A country that needed no more turmoil received a powerful shock. There are many questions asked and little certainty at this early stage, as Trump is undergoing testing at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Will there be other presidential debates? (It would be a merciful relief if there weren’t any.) Is the president holding other gatherings? Does he persuade his supporters that this is serious after all?

When I heard the news in the wee hours of Friday, I was stunned, astonished and bewildered all at once – but no surprise.

The amazement is that Donald Trump is the most protected man in the world. If I am one of the limited number of “pool journalists” to accompany the president for the day, my first stopover is the White House medical unit for a rapid test for the coronavirus. It is not to my advantage.

Yet all of this is inevitable. The president behaved as if the crisis was already in the rearview mirror. Gatherings? Let’s get back to the road. If thousands of people want to attend without social distancing? Well. If they don’t want to wear a mask? It’s up to them to decide.

It was not until last weekend that Trump’s choice to replace Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court was presented to the American people in a ceremony at the Rose Garden and guests were allowed to move, in little wear. masks. At least two of the Republican senators came down with Covid-19, as did Republican Party leader Ronna McDaniel.

The enormity of Trump’s diagnosis is hard to overstate.

On Sunday and Monday, the US media hyperventilated his tax affairs, revealed in the New York Times. Commentators took a deep breath, puffed up their chest, and said it would change the election.

It turns out that Trump has personal debts of over $ 400 million. And in 2016, when he won the election, and in 2017, his first year in office, he paid just $ 750 in federal income tax.

I’m still amazed that he can deduct $ 70,000 in tax for “hairstyle for television appearances”. It’s quite a haircut.

It was not until last weekend that Trump's choice to replace Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court was presented to the American people in a ceremony at the Rose Garden and guests were allowed to move, in little wear. masks.  Several of those present - including the president, were diagnosed with Covid-19

It was not until last weekend that Trump’s choice to replace Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court was presented to the American people in a ceremony at the Rose Garden and guests were allowed to move, in little wear. masks. Several of those present – including the president, were diagnosed with Covid-19

Yet it was all but forgotten by the close of Tuesday’s televised debate, described in US media as a “garbage can fire” from a confrontation. Trump and Joe Biden made a St Trinian food fight look classy. Quite the least uplifting thing.

But even that has now been swept aside.

It was 1:45 a.m. when I was awakened by the news. Before going to bed, I filed a report on close presidential aide and confidant, Hope Hicks. She’s like a girl to Trump. Beautiful and balanced, she has been a key figure since the 2016 campaign. And last week she had been by the President’s side, including when on Wednesday night she flew with the Washington Inner Circle to Duluth, Minnesota, where Trump was organizing a rally.

It was like a scene from a TV miniseries as the entourage exited the west wing and along the south lawn to the waiting helicopter. Hicks wore a long camel-hair coat, the collar turned up, and made his way cautiously through the lush grass, careful in case his stiletto heels dig into the grass.

They all seemed way too bright for bad things to happen to them. None wore masks as they climbed the confined space of the Sikorsky Nighthawk. Except by the time they arrived in Duluth, Minnesota, Hope Hicks was symptomatic and, on the flight back to Washington, she was quarantined aboard Air Force One.

On Thursday morning, it was confirmed that she had contracted the virus. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Friday I spent much of the day at the White House. The atmosphere had completely changed. For once fear has really stalked the maze of passageways where people work in overcrowded conditions in the West Wing.

In the part of the press office where the young interns work, the masks were clearly visible. As he made his way to Marine One, an infectious president wore one too. The impossible had happened.

Friday I spent much of the day at the White House.  The atmosphere had completely changed.  For once fear has really stalked the maze of passageways where people work in overcrowded conditions in the West Wing.

Friday I spent much of the day at the White House. The atmosphere had completely changed. For once fear has really stalked the maze of passageways where people work in overcrowded conditions in the West Wing.

For his detractors, now is the time to say “I told you”, the president paying a heavy price for his erratic handling of the virus. But on Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite breakfast show, I heard one of the TV presenters speculate that it might work in his favor. If this is a really minor case and the President bounces back quickly, well, he can use it to bolster his argument that people have nothing to fear from the virus.

Uber-haters even wonder if Trump really has coronavirus. Isn’t this an elaborate ploy to steal the elections by generating sympathy? I can’t quite follow the details.

The Ultra Trumpers, meanwhile, insist the virus is still a hoax.

My producer texts me from his aunt, who writes, “It’s funny science – even if you don’t believe it, it still exists. As the White House is now painfully aware of.

  • Jon Sopel’s book, A Year At The Circus, is available in paperback.

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