The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency
President Donald Trump’s physician reported the president was doing “very well” on Saturday morning after checking into Walter Reed Hospital on Friday evening to undergo treatment for the coronavirus.
White House physician Sean Conley said the president had been fever-free for 24 hours, and other symptoms were improving. The president was not receiving supplemental oxygen Saturday, and another physician said he told his doctors: “I feel like I could walk out of here today.” The Associated Press and other news outlets, citing an anonymous White House source, reported that Trump had received oxygen Friday before going to Walter Reed. He’ll likely remain in the hospital until at least early next week to continue a course of therapeutic drugs for the virus.
Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for COVID-19 on Saturday morning and will continue daily testing. If Trump’s condition worsened and he became incapacitated, Pence would be next-in-line to assume his duties. (If Trump and Pence were incapacitated, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, would be next.)
The president’s diagnosis this week was the first major domino to fall in a series of positive test results among Republican lawmakers and aides. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., both reported they had tested positive for the virus on Friday.
Both senators were at a White House event to watch the president announce his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Sept. 26. At least seven people in attendance had reported positive COVID-19 tests by Saturday. The guests sat close together at the outdoor gathering, and many didn’t wear masks.
Barrett tested negative for the virus on Friday, and CNN reported three unnamed sources said the Supreme Court nominee had recovered from a mild bout with coronavirus over the summer. That raises hopes Barrett will remain virus-free, but her confirmation process is still up in the air: Lee and Tillis are both on the Senate Judiciary Committee set to conduct hearings for Barrett. The hearing has been scheduled to begin on Oct. 12.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who chairs the committee, said senators would be allowed to participate in the hearing virtually. He said he remained “very focused” on keeping the hearing on schedule.
Part of that focus likely involves a fervent desire to confirm Barrett before the Nov. 3. election.
A third Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, reported he had tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday. Johnson wasn’t at the White House announcement last weekend.
Though Republicans likely have the Senate votes to approve her confirmation, there could be a hitch: If Democratic candidate Mark Kelly ousts Republican Sen. Martha McSally in a special election in Arizona, he could be seated as early as Nov. 30. A special election in Georgia could also end up seating another Democratic senator early.
That would tighten the already thin margins for Senate Republicans to confirm Barrett to the court.
As Republicans race to confirm Barrett, they wonder what will happen with the race for the presidency. Trump canceled all upcoming campaign events, and his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, announced he had tested positive for the virus too. (Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped Trump prepared for his debate last Tuesday, also tested positive.)
Digital campaigning and television ads will continue, but it’s unclear what the ground game for Trump will look like in the next four weeks, including a scheduled debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Oct. 15.
Biden announced he would halt negative campaign ads about Trump while the president recovered, and the candidate headed to Michigan to campaign on Friday. He tested negative for the virus earlier in the day. Even as Biden wishes the president a quick recovery, he also may begin to point to the growing web of coronavirus cases among Republicans to raise questions about their approach to the virus.
With the president sidelined, the chaos raises the stakes for Pence’s debate with Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Wednesday. That debate is scheduled to continue as planned in Salt Lake City, with a notable change that feels symbolic of the growing divide in America: The debate commission has agreed to the Biden campaign’s request to increase the physical distance between Pence and Harris.
The opponents will sit 12 feet apart.
—WORLD has updated this story to correct the day of the vice presidential debate.