- Jeff MasonReuters White House correspondent.
As the White House and President Trump’s medical team issue conflicting statements on Trump’s condition after he was hospitalized for COVID-19, and when he was infected, we speak with Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason. The administration’s lack of transparency “certainly raises questions about the decisions that were made to allow him to travel, for him to decide to travel, and to expose what seems like a lot of people,” Mason says.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump has entered his fourth day hospitalized at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and was flown to the hospital on Friday after suffering a high fever and a drop in oxygen. Trump has received supplemental oxygen at least twice after his blood oxygen level fell. Doctors say Trump could be released back to the White House to continue his treatment as early as today.
Over the weekend, his medical team repeatedly gave limited and conflicting information about his health and refused to answer key questions, lied about other issues. On Saturday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, quote, “We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery.” On Sunday, doctors revealed Trump had been given dexamethasone, a common steroid that’s recommended only for patients critically ill with COVID-19. His treatment has also included the experimental monoclonal antibody made by Regeneron and the antiviral drug remdesivir. CNN reports Trump may be the only COVID-19 patient to ever receive this combination of drugs.
On Sunday, Trump broke his quarantine by leaving the hospital to take a short drive to wave at his supporters outside. Trump appeared to be wearing just a cloth mask inside the sealed vehicle, possibly infecting the Secret Service agents who accompanied him.
Meanwhile, the number of prominent Republicans to get infected keeps growing. The list now includes first lady Melania Trump, Senators Mike Lee, Thom Tillis and Ron Johnson, Trump adviser Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who’s been hospitalized. Trump’s personal assistant, Nicholas Luna, has also tested positive.
Many of those infected attended a ceremony at the White House for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Notre Dame University president John Jenkins, who attended the event, has also tested positive.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who debated Trump on Tuesday, tested negative on Friday, as well as on Sunday.
We begin today’s show with Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. He was previously the director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute. We’re also joined by Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason, the former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jeff Mason, let’s begin with you. Now, you’re in Wilmington now. You’re covering Joe Biden. You were the White House Correspondent president in the beginning of Trump’s term. Can you talk about, number one, would we know almost any of this on Thursday if it hadn’t been a reporter at Bloomberg News who reported that Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19?
JEFF MASON: Well, that’s a great question. We wouldn’t have known it when we did. That’s for sure. I mean, when that news broke by Bloomberg and then ended up being confirmed, of course, by other news organizations, including my own, that led to a trickle of news about — essentially, about President Trump. I mean, he came on Fox News later that evening and also confirmed that Hope had gotten sick, and at that time said that he had been tested and also sort of gave an indication that he wasn’t sure if he had it and whether he would need to go into quarantine. So, you know, it’s hard, in retrospect, to know what would have — you know, if he still would have gone on Fox in that case. Clearly, eventually, they would have had to say that he had the disease, but, for sure, it started off because of good reporting from one of my colleagues.
AMY GOODMAN: And this issue is so critical because it is clear that President Trump knew at least before he left the tarmac for that New Jersey fundraiser, where he was inside with at least 18 of his donors and there was an inside/outside event of like 250 people — he knew that Hope Hicks had tested positive. The significance of this at this point? It is not clear whether he had been tested at that point, and it’s not clear, certainly, that Hope Hicks gave it to him. For all we know, he gave it to her. So many people around him, at least 10, have now tested positive for COVID-19. But the significance of him going then in a plane to New Jersey for this fundraiser?
JEFF MASON: Yeah, I mean, you laid it out very well. It’s exactly the opposite of what public health professionals have been encouraging Americans and others around the world not to do. If you have been exposed, certainly if you feel any symptoms, people are encouraged to stay home and not to travel, to wear a mask. President Trump, of course, has not been a regular mask wearer.
And the White House isn’t giving a lot of details about what we would call a tick tock, which are the exact sort of details about a timeline of when he first found out. But the timeline that you have laid out is also what is generally known at this point, and it certainly raises questions about the decisions that were made to allow him to travel, for him to decide to travel, and to expose what seems like a lot of people.
AMY GOODMAN: And the critical question: When was Trump last tested, before Thursday? When did he last do a COVID test? I mean, the significance of this question is clear, because the White House is refusing to answer it, the doctor — his doctor is refusing to answer it. Before Thursday, when was he last tested? Any reporting on that?
JEFF MASON: Yeah, I mean, you’re asking the question that I think a lot of people would like to know. He would have been tested — he would have been tested before the debate, I believe. I know that the Biden campaign —
AMY GOODMAN: No, actually, Chris Matthews — sorry, Chris Wallace said —
JEFF MASON: Yeah, feel free to correct me on that.
AMY GOODMAN: — that Trump arrived too late to actually have a test, and they worked on the, quote, “honor system.”
JEFF MASON: OK, all right. That’s right, and I’m glad you corrected me on that. I know that the Biden campaign said that he was tested before going to Cleveland. And that is obviously a big breach, if that’s what happened with the White House and with President Trump.
The one thing they have been saying repeatedly throughout the last several weeks and months of this pandemic is that he is tested very regularly. I think many people assume that that would mean that he is tested on a daily basis, which would have included that Tuesday of that debate. I can tell you that reporters and others who are around the president regularly at the White House, obviously before this diagnosis, are tested on a daily basis. And so I think there is certainly an assumption that that was happening with him, too.
AMY GOODMAN: And that is another critical question. Your colleagues in the White House press corps who were there that weekend covering the events around Amy Coney Barrett, three have now tested positive, as far as we know, one of them Michael Shear of The New York Times. Now, you are a strong advocate of reporters at the White House. You were the head of the press association there. The significance of this? And how hard is it to work safely at the White House, when you have a president who the people around him are discouraged from wearing masks and you have a White House press secretary who does not wear a mask when she comes to brief the press?
JEFF MASON: Yeah, it’s very tricky. It is a tricky time, because journalists, obviously, myself included, and all of my colleagues, feel a responsibility to cover this, which is the biggest story in the world, and to get information out to the American people, as well as the rest of the world, not only about now the president’s health, but the policy response to the pandemic and everything else. So, it is definitely a challenge. And it’s unusual, I would say, that reporters have to put themselves at risk just by going to do their jobs at the White House. But that has been the case.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Mason, I wanted to go back to you questioning President Trump. I believe it was on September 7th.
JEFF MASON: Thanks, Mr. President. The issue of what happened when you were in France continues to be a story.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You’re going have to take that off, please. Just you can take it off. Your health — how many feet are you away?
JEFF MASON: I’ll speak a lot louder.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, if you don’t take it off — you’re very muffled, so if you would take it off, it would be a lot easier.
JEFF MASON: I’ll just speak a lot louder. Is that better?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s better, yeah. It’s better.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Jeff Mason, you clearly stood your ground. You were wearing that mask, and you refused to take it off. Talk about the significance of that and him telling other reporters, as well, at different times? That was a month ago today, telling them to take off their masks?
JEFF MASON: I think it’s just representative of the ethos around mask wearing that President Trump has employed and used. He, as you were referring to earlier, doesn’t like wearing a mask, doesn’t like it when people around him are wearing a mask. In that particular case with me, he is right that I was far enough away from him that we had enough distance, in which I wouldn’t have needed to wear a mask, but I was standing next to my colleagues. And that’s why I left mine on.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, what happened yesterday, this moment when President Trump does a drive-by surprise wave to his supporters outside the hospital, it was an astounding moment to see him in this hermetically sealed, you know, presidential — I don’t know if it’s an SUV — with two —
JEFF MASON: I think it was an SUV, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Right — two Secret Service driving him. He is a sick COVID patient forcing his Secret Service to be in a car with closed windows. And the press, the White House press corps, told to go leave the premises at that point, because there would be no more news from President Trump.
JEFF MASON: Right. And to give a specific timeline on that, so, the small pool of reporters that covers the president’s movements, that travels with him, that’s called the pool. And we’re given instructions in the morning as to what time to show up at the White House. And in yesterday’s case, they showed up at the White House and then went to Walter Reed and then were given instructions to leave because there would be no more movements. There were other reporters out there, and I think that’s, thankfully, why we were able to get some video. But the pool itself had been dismissed.
And I should also clarify something I said earlier. It’s just the pool of reporters, that 13-member group, that gets tested every day when they go to the White House. There are lots of other reporters, including on that day of the nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who do not get tested. So, the precautions there are limited to a small group of people.
But to get back to your specific question, yes, he certainly breached protocols with regard to the press, and certainly also breached protocols with regard to health, by leaving the hospital and by going out and doing that. It’s the opposite — the opposite — of what COVID patients are encouraged to do all around this country, certainly if they’re in a hospital, but also simply if you’re at home. If you are diagnosed with a disease — which, let’s be clear, he has the disease and is being treated for it — you are to stay quarantined and to stay, in this case, in the hospital, or otherwise at home.
AMY GOODMAN: The sad joke online about yesterday’s drive-by: Secret Service members are there to take a bullet for the president, not from him.