By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, confined to the White House where he is being treated for COVID-19, said on Thursday he does not believe he is contagious and is feeling good enough to resume campaign rallies as he tries to boost his flagging reelection bid.
“I’m back because I’m a perfect physical specimen,” Trump told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo in his first interview since it was revealed nearly a week ago that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Trump’s contention he was no longer contagious was not yet backed up by solid evidence from his doctors. The White House has refused to say when his last negative test for the virus was and, as a result, it is unclear how long he has been positive.
The Republican president is under pressure to actively campaign again to try to inject new energy into his reelection bid as he faces a deficit in opinion polls in battleground states with Election Day now less than four weeks away.
Trump rejected an announcement by the Commission on Presidential Debates that the second presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 15, would be held in a virtual format with the candidates in remote locations. The move was made to ensure it could go forward whether or not Trump remained virus-free.
“I’m feeling good, really good,” said Trump, who spent three nights being treated at a military hospital outside Washington until his discharge on Monday. Trump said he had stopped taking “most therapeutics” for the virus but was still on steroids.
With layoffs in key sectors increasing doubts about the fragile economic recovery, Trump said he called off negotiations with Congress for a fresh round of stimulus for the ailing economy because they were not going anywhere.
But he said some discussions are ongoing with Democrats about boosting support for U.S. airlines and providing Americans with $1,200 stimulus checks.
Trump has faced criticism for underestimating the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work. Even since revealing his own illness on Friday, Trump has downplayed the respiratory disease’s dangers and been censured by social media platforms for spreading misinformation about it.
“I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it. This was a blessing in disguise,” Trump said in the video posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday, adding that his use of an experimental medication from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc had allowed him to experience first-hand how effective it could be.
He vowed to make the treatment available free of charge, but did not say how he would do that or who would pay the cost of the treatments. The United States is currently reporting more than 44,000 new COVID-19 infections each day.
The Fox Business Network interview was conducted over the phone. Trump himself has not been seen in public since he arrived back at the White House from the hospital on Monday night.
Despite his illness, Trump has been looking for ways to get his election message out and cut into Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s lead in battleground states, advisers said.
Aides said Trump was impatient to return to campaigning and insistent on going ahead with the second presidential debate in Miami, although Biden said on Tuesday he would not participate if Trump was not virus-free.
Trump has had no COVID-19 symptoms for the past 24 hours, his doctor, Sean Conley, said in a statement on Wednesday
“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.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Paul Simao)