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The Morning Dispatch: Coronavirus Has Reached the White House
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The Morning Dispatch: Coronavirus Has Reached the White House

President Trump announces that he and Melania have COVID-19 hours after Hope Hicks’ positive test was made public.

Happy Friday. Today was one of those days we scrapped the entire newsletter we had planned and rewrote it at 1 a.m. Bear with us.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 47,659 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 5.3 percent of the 905,961 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 903 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 207,791.

  • President Trump announced both he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19 late last night. “We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately,” he said. “We will get through this TOGETHER!”

  • The State Department limited the number of refugees it will admit during fiscal year 2021 to 15,000 individuals, down from the 18,000 annual cap established for 2020. The State Department said on Wednesday that it anticipates receiving 300,000 refugees and asylum seekers next year.

  • The Department of Labor announced that another 837,000 people filed initial unemployment claims (on a seasonally-adjusted basis) in the week ending on September 26, a slight decrease from the 873,000 initial claims announced the week before.

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that beginning today, counties throughout the state will be permitted only one drop-off location for mail-in ballots. The move disproportionately affects Harris County, with 11 drop-off sites, as well as Travis County, with four. “This is a deliberate attempt to manipulate the election,” said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, a Democrat. Abbott maintains his move “will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”

  • In his sharpest rebuke of his former boss yet, erstwhile National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said yesterday that President Trump is “aiding and abetting Putin’s efforts” by not being direct about Russian disinformation campaigns surrounding the election. “This sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial is aided by any leader who doesn’t acknowledge it.”

  • After avoiding in-person canvassing for months due to the pandemic, the Biden campaign is reversing course and will begin sending hundreds of door-knocking volunteers to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Nevada this weekend.

  • The Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to authorize subpoenas compelling Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to testify before the committee on issues relating to privacy, “media domination,” and purported bias against conservative viewpoints.

  • In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News last night, President Trump did what he wouldn’t do unequivocally during Tuesday night’s debate. “I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys,” Trump said. “I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”

The Coronavirus Has Reached the White House

President Trump and the first lady have tested positive for COVID-19. “We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately,” Trump tweeted at 12:54 a.m, in a message that overnight became his most viral tweet ever. “We will get through this TOGETHER!”

“The President and First Lady are both well at this time, and they plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence,” the president’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, wrote in a memorandum. “Rest assured I expect the President to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering.”

Hopefully the president and first lady’s cases prove to be asymptomatic or mild, and Trump can indeed continue to carry out his normal duties. But at the age of 74—and overweight—President Trump falls into several of the Centers for Disease Control’s “higher risk” categories for severe COVID-19 illness. Per CDC data, 65- to 74-year-olds are five times more likely than 18- to 29-year-olds to be hospitalized with the virus, and 90 times more likely to die from complications associated with it. The president, of course, will have access to the best medical care in the world.

Trump’s tweet came hours after Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that top White House aide Hope Hicks had tested positive for the virus. Hicks—who began feeling ill late Wednesday—traveled aboard Air Force One with the president to and from both the debate on Tuesday and Trump’s rally in Minnesota on Wednesday. The New York Times reports that “White House officials had hoped to keep the news about Ms. Hicks from becoming public, to no avail.”

“We spent a lot of time with Hope and others,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last night after news of Hicks’ positive test was public but before news of his own was. “It is very, very hard when you are with people from the military, and they come over to you and they want to hug you and kiss you because we really have done a good job for them. You get close, and things happen.”

In the hours after Hicks’ positive test was reported, the most pressing question was whether she’d been around Trump long enough to infect him. Trump’s subsequent announcement that he and Melania had tested positive raised a host of unsettling possibilities: How many other people had he and his retinue exposed to infection?

In recent days, the Trump campaign has kept up a brisk schedule. Despite Hicks coming down sick on Wednesday—the White House was aware and she quarantined herself on the Wednesday flight back to D.C.—Trump still did his full day of events Thursday: a roundtable with supporters and a fundraising event in New Jersey. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany held a briefing with reporters as normal. She withheld the news of Hicks’ infection.

After returning to the White House Thursday evening, Trump delivered a virtual speech at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, held online this year. “We mourn for all of those who lost a loved one, and in their memory, we will defeat the virus,” he said. “I just want to say that the end of the pandemic is in sight, and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country.”

Just two hours before Trump announced his positive result, the White House blasted out another presidential schedule full of in-person events for Friday: another supporter roundtable and a rally in Florida. After the positive test, at around 1 a.m., the White House updated Trump’s schedule. He will now participate only in a phone call about COVID-19 support for vulnerable seniors.

As we’ve covered before, COVID-19’s incubation period is typically between three and 14 days, meaning one can be contagious and spread the virus days before experiencing symptoms or even testing positive. It was, of course, only three days ago that the first general election debate took place. President Trump and Joe Biden were about 10 feet apart on the debate stage, but were indoors, shouting, and maskless. Trump poked fun of Biden’s frequent mask wearing. “I think masks are OK,” Trump said, noting: “I put a mask on when I think I need it. Tonight, as an example, everybody’s had a test and you’ve had social distancing and all of the things that you have to, but I wear masks when needed.” He added: “I don’t wear a mask like [Biden]. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask,” Trump jeered on Tuesday. “He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”

Meanwhile, despite the regulations from the Cleveland Clinic where the debate took place, a number of Trump family members and Trump administration officials in the audience—Melania among them—declined to keep masks on once they were seated, even after they were explicitly asked by clinic personnel to do so. We expect Biden and his team will be tested today, if they have not been already.

Others in the president’s orbit might easily have the virus too. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and senior aide Ben Williamson reportedly tested negative this morning. But in recent days Hicks has been in close proximity with McEnany, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, Jason Miller, Rep. Jim Jordan, and Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric. Amy Coney Barrett was next to Trump at the White House last weekend, and has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week, meeting individually with dozens of senators in advance of her confirmation hearing.

“White House Operations collaborates with the Physician to the President and the White House military Office to ensure all plans and procedures incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible both on the complex and when the President is traveling,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. But White House officials are often seen without masks on the premises. Olivia Troye, a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence, said, “you get stared at in the West Wing like you’re an alien” if you wear one.

This is a serious moment, likely the gravest health threat to a sitting U.S. president since Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981. The election is 32 days away and the incumbent will have to remove himself from the campaign trail for the foreseeable future. Adversaries could very well look to take advantage of the chaos. Lord knows there will be conspiracy theories.

Top U.S government officials of both parties have long participated in continuity-of-government practices and there are protocols in place for just such an eventuality. This Bloomberg article from May explored some of the possibilities. And this, in the Atlantic, took a deeper look.

We will continue reporting over the weekend and will have a comprehensive update in Monday’s TMD. Until then, keep safe and healthy out there.

Worth Your Time

  • Is the filibuster gone for good if Democrats retake control of the Senate in November? Is it worth preserving? The argument typically falls along party lines, with Republicans siding in its favor and Democrats arguing that it’s nothing but a legacy of the Jim Crow era. Check out Ezra Klein’s case against the filibuster in Vox this week, in which he attempts to address and rebut nearly every argument in favor of the senatorial rule on pragmatic grounds. “To keep the filibuster is to accept continued legislative paralysis, a Senate that acts not as the cooling saucer of the American political system but as the deep freezer of the legislative branch,” he argues. “To eliminate it is to court the whirlwind of governance—to accept that your opponents may win elections, to risk their agenda passing into law.” Wherever you fall on the debate, this is one of the better compilations of the pro and con arguments that we’ve seen.

  • “Ian Pepper and Charles Gerba have been waiting 30 years for the chance to use sewage to save the world,” writes Charles Fishman in The Atlantic. “And in the last week of August, it looked like they might have done just that—or at least saved the sunbaked corner of Tucson that is the University of Arizona campus, at least for a little while.” These two researchers have spent the past month collecting samples from the University of Arizona’s sewers to track the spread of coronavirus on campus, making up just a small fraction of the school’s multimillion dollar effort to reopen during the pandemic. Read Fishman’s piece to learn more about the school’s costly crusade to keep its campus clean for students and faculty members.

Something Fun

The Nationals didn’t make the playoffs, so we’re glad the Racing Presidents found a way to make themselves useful.

Presented Without Comment

Presented Without Comment

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Will Amy Coney Barrett shake things up on the bench if she is confirmed by the Senate before November 3? Not much, David and Sarah argue on yesterday’s episode of Advisory Opinions. “Amy Coney Barrett will not be as revolutionary as the left fears or the right wishes,” Sarah said. “Because no justice really is, because it’s one vote.” After breaking down what a 6-3 conservative majority would mean for the future of Supreme Court jurisprudence, our podcast hosts are joined by Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute for a conversation about the history of Supreme Court nominations. 

  • On Sept. 23, the Trump administration took several steps to disrupt American revenue streams to the Cuban government, a regime that China has cozied up to in recent years. Four days later, a State Department spokesperson publicly rebuked Xi Jinping for lying about the CCP’s military intentions in the Spratly Islands. Be sure to read Thursday’s Vital Interests (🔒) newsletter, in which Thomas Joscelyn explains China’s efforts to bolster the CCP’s hegemony in both Latin America and the South China Sea.

Let Us Know

Saturday Night Live has released a preview clip showing Jim Carey as Joe Biden (and Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris). What do you think of the casting choice? Who would you have play Biden?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by Bill O’Leary/Washington Post/Getty Images.