By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday returned to his office in the White House after his doctor reported that he was showing no COVID-19 symptoms, but a tough fight awaits to revive the Republican’s struggling re-election bid.
Trump, who has been convalescing in the residence area of the White House since Monday, went to the Oval Office to be briefed about economic stimulus talks and Hurricane Delta, a White House official said.
The official said he entered the office from the Rose Garden to avoid walking through the White House hallways and possibly exposing others to the coronavirus.
Chief of staff Mark Meadows conducted the briefing and wore personal protective gear, according to the official.
“Was just briefed on Hurricane Delta, and spoke with @GovAbbott of Texas and @LouisianaGov John Bel Edwards,” Trump wrote in a tweet shortly after.
Trump had been in his residence in the White House since his dramatic made-for-video return from Walter Reed military hospital in a helicopter on Monday night.
Trump, who faces Democrat Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election, has had no COVID-19 symptoms for the past 24 hours, his doctor Sean Conley said in a statement.
“He’s now been fever-free for more than four days, symptom-free for over 24 hours, and has not needed nor received any supplemental oxygen since initial hospitalization,” Conley said.
He said Trump’s physical exam and vital signs “all remain stable and in normal range.”
Trump, 74, has not been seen in public or on video since Monday, although he has sent multiple tweets attacking opponents and downplaying the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite his illness, Trump has been looking for ways to get his election message out and cut into Biden’s lead in battleground states, advisers said.
They said they had been discussing Trump delivering a national address, while a speech to senior voters is being contemplated for Thursday. Vice President Mike Pence’s debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris in Salt Lake City will take center stage of the campaign on Wednesday evening.
Aides say Trump is impatient to get back on the campaign trail and insistent on going ahead with the next debate on Oct. 15 in Miami, but Biden said on Tuesday he will not participate if Trump is not virus-free.
Any political boost Trump could get from a fresh injection of stimulus money into Americans’ pockets appears to be out of reach after he abruptly ended negotiations with Democrats on Tuesday, with both sides far apart on how much money to devote to a deal.
Both Biden and the top Democrat in the U.S. Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accused Trump of abandoning needy Americans. Republican Senator Susan Collins, facing a tough re-election bid in her home state of Maine, called Trump’s move a “huge mistake.”
“The president turned his back on you,” Biden said in a Twitter post.
With layoffs in key industries mounting by the day and threatening the fragile recovery, Trump late on Tuesday urged Congress to quickly pass $25 billion in funding for passenger airlines, $135 billion for small businesses and provide $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans.
But White House officials on Wednesday downplayed the likelihood of any kind of stimulus being passed before the election.
Trump’s drive to get Judge Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the vacant seat on the Supreme Court by the Republican-controlled Senate before the election also may be in doubt, since three Republican senators have been infected with the coronavirus and may not be able to vote.
A wave of infections at the White House among Trump’s top lieutenants and press office aides has left the West Wing struggling to find its footing. ABC News said its count of cases related to the White House was now 23, including Trump and his wife, Melania.
Trump has depicted himself as a man who vanquished the disease and emerged stronger, telling Americans not to be afraid of COVID-19.
But his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 210,000 people in the United States, has been met with skepticism from many Americans.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted Oct. 2-6, found that 38% of adults approved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, while 56% said they disapproved.
The poll found that 79% of U.S. adults, including 94% of registered Democrats and 70% of registered Republicans, said they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned personally about the spread of the virus.
Advisers say Trump wanted to be talking about other issues instead of the virus by this stage of the campaign, to put pressure on Biden. Opinion polls show Trump down double digits, and Biden with sizeable leads in many swing states.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Chris Kahn; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)