"This place is a cesspool": With Trump's return, risks rise in the West Wing

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House aides have advised President Trump to avoid the Oval Office while he's still infected. But they’re making arrangements for him to work out of the Diplomatic Reception Room, and use it as a backdrop for future televised remarks, two White House officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: The preparations show that far from bunkering down in the residence until he's well, Trump is considering remaining active while he recovers from COVID. Any Trump movement in the West Wing would create a series of risks for his staff.

A taste of Trump's attitude about the virus played out on live TV last evening as he returned by Marine One at sunset after three nights at Walter Reed: He walked up to a White House balcony, took off his mask for the cameras, put it in his jacket pocket, adjusted his suit, straightened his tie and lingered to give purposeful thumbs-ups and salutes.

  • "Don’t be afraid of Covid," he tweeted — the exact opposite of what any medical or public-health professional will tell you. "Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!"
  • "Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!" he added.

Reflecting widespread dismay among administration officials, a White House source told Axios:

  • "It's insane that he would return to the White House and jeopardize his staff's health when we are still learning of new cases among senior staff. This place is a cesspool."
  • "He was so concerned with preventing embarrassing stories that he exposed thousands of his own staff and supporters to a deadly virus. He has kept us in the dark, and now our spouses and kids have to pay the price. It's just selfish."

The big picture: The White House — despite its infinite access to the best resources available — continues to respond to its own coronavirus outbreak about as recklessly as possible, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • The White House is doing only minimal contact tracing, and hasn't sought help from the CDC, the N.Y. Times reports (subscription). The White House has decided not to trace the contacts of attendees at last weekend’s Rose Garden event celebrating the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
  • Mayor Muriel Bowser said D.C. officials have been unsuccessful in trying to connect with the White House to assist with contact tracing: "We have reached out to the White House on a couple of different levels, a political level and a public health level."

Among those endangered by Trump's approach:

  • "The White House residence staff members are largely Black and Latino, and often elderly, according to Kate Anderson Brower, who compiled a trove of interviews with former staffers for her book ''The Residence,'" the WashPost reports. There are about 90 full-time ushers, butlers, housekeepers, valets, florists, engineers and cooks.
  • "For the Secret Service, a New Question: Who Will Protect Them From Trump?" says a N.Y. Times headline.
  • White House reporters are increasingly anxious and angry, Axios' Sara Fischer reports. N.Y. Times White House correspondent Michael Shear, who tested positive, tells Axios: "My wife has now tested positive for COVID. The collateral damage is going to be pretty significant, I think."

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