It has created the impression of a leader and government in a new state of disarray, even for a chaotic tenure. Some of Trump’s aides have speculated that his wild temper swings and head-turning reversals were related to his health, particularly his use of dexamethasone, the steroid he took as part of his treatment for the coronavirus.
Since Trump returned from the hospital on Monday, few high-ranking officials have seen him in person as he works in the Housing and Oval office. While offices had been set up for him on the lower level of the Executive Villa, Trump realized they wanted to – he complained several times over his phone during an interview about Fox Business Thursday morning – and insisted on returning to the Oval Office.
His staff included Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, social media advisor Dan Scavino and senior advisor Jared Kushner, who joined Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday. It has also been rated by members of the medical team and it still has an intelligence detail. Everyone wears yellow clothes, plastic glasses and N95 masks when they are around.
But the circle of people who have actually seen him in the flesh since Monday is very small. Its staff was kept to a minimum to avoid infection, but also because so many of its helpers got the coronavirus.
Members of Trump’s inner circle who typically interact with him several times a day – including senior advisors Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany – are recovering from coronavirus at home. Daughter Ivanka Trump is also being quarantined at home, although she is not known to have the virus.
Vice President Mike Pence, who had traveled west this week for his debut appearance, returned to Washington earlier than planned on Thursday but was not supposed to see Trump in person.
In a series of videos released by the White House, Trump sounded lively but appeared to be struggling at certain moments to catch his breath. He also wore heavy makeup. The videos that were recorded Wednesday on the grounds of the White House South appeared slightly edited.
The circle of people who saw Trump is likely to expand on Friday. He is asked to participate in his first personal interview since becoming infected with Dr. Marc Siegel, a Fox News medical analyst, will attend. Siegel interviewed Trump that summer where he was defending his cognitive abilities by reciting a sequence he allegedly memorized during a test.
Even so, the interview is being conducted from a distance, so it’s not clear who will actually see Trump in the flesh.
Aides also discussed some sort of outdoor photo op that might allay concerns about his physical condition, but the plans were tentative and nothing had been decided.
Trump will also take part in a lunchtime virtual rally with Conservative host Rush Limbaugh, calling his campaign the “largest virtual rally in radio history.”
On Thursday evening, Trump called for his second Fox interview that day, a conversation that came with a new memorandum from his doctor Dr. Sean Conley collapsed, which said, “I fully expect the president to be publicly engaged again by Saturday.”
Trump took this as a sign that he was allowed to rally again, although he stopped a few times during the interview to cough or catch his breath.
The next morning, his spokeswoman called Fox from her own coronavirus isolation to cast doubt on whether a rally could be arranged as soon as Saturday.
“He wants to be out there and logistically, if tomorrow is possible, it would be difficult,” said McEnany. “It would be a campaign decision, but logistically we’re just trying to keep up with the president, who is ready to go, ready to be out there as soon as he gets the okay from his doctor.”
It remained unclear when Trump would be retested and whether these results would be made public. The White House has repeatedly refused to say when he last tested negative, raising questions about the timing of his illness.
While Conley said on Thursday that Saturday would bring Trump to the tenth day of his illness, he had previously said that Monday was the day they would be comfortable that Trump was clear.