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How Trump's Positive Coronavirus Test Affects Government And His Campaign

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right. We are going to talk through what all of this could mean for President Trump and his administration and oh, yeah, the presidential election with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Start with just, practically, how does all of this affect the day-to-day functioning of the government?

LIASSON: We don't know that because we don't know how sick the president is. The White House went to great lengths today to say it won't affect the functioning of government. We do know that Vice President Mike Pence stood in for the president on a phone call with governors about protecting senior citizens from COVID. But for a president for whom governing means being on TV every day, this does raise a lot of questions. The White House says it's working on a way for him to speak to the American people soon. Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, said his symptoms are mild, but we don't really know. And I think the severity of his condition will determine how much we'll see of him and how much governing he'll actually do.

KELLY: Just to remind of how the president has approached the coronavirus, he famously said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It affects virtually nobody.

KELLY: And then just Tuesday at the debate, he was mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask.

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TRUMP: I wear masks when needed. When needed, I wear masks.

CHRIS WALLACE: OK, let me ask...

TRUMP: I don't have - I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from it, he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen.

KELLY: Mara, tell us how all this might affect the presidential campaign. Now, here we are a month and a day from November 3.

LIASSON: Right. It depends on how long he's sidelined. For now, big rallies and events have been canceled. Those are really the lifeblood of the president's campaign. It also calls into question whether there's going to be two more debates. The next one comes at the end of this quarantine period in about two weeks. And also, it just makes it harder for him to say that Joe Biden hid in the basement because he was senile, not because he was following public health advice.

KELLY: I mean, this is obviously extremely unwelcome news from the personal health point of view of the president. But again, just politically, talk us through the ways this might help him in his campaign.

LIASSON: Well, I haven't heard anyone say it would help him. And I've talked to Democrats and Republicans. And the universal takeaway is that this isn't good for him, mostly because it returns the debate and the spotlight to the virus. And he's been trying to get it off the virus, to say the virus is over. He wants to make it about the court, about Biden's mental acuity and not to make it a referendum on his leadership during the pandemic. That's where he suffers in comparison to Biden. So that effort just came to a screeching halt. Now the spotlight is back and shining brightly on the coronavirus, exactly where Joe Biden wants it to be.

I think the moral of the story is this is a president who wants to dominate the media narrative. The campaign has been all about him for better or for worse. And now it's going to also be all about him. Does he have a temperature? What are his symptoms? How long will he be quarantined? How is he feeling? And he used - he tends to feel that dominating the media is a metric for success. But now maybe it's not such a great thing because it doesn't allow him to focus on the economy or Amy Coney Barrett. And that's a real problem for the president.

KELLY: I mean, on the other hand - and just to push you here for a second, Mara - it also means we are not talking about that New York Times blockbuster report about his taxes. We are not talking about his refusal to condemn white supremacy during the debate. I mean, again, we're not talking about all those issues. It's been a bad week already for the president.

LIASSON: That's true. And that's been the story of the Trump administration from Day 1. The big headline or scandal or outrageous statement always gets overtaken by the next one. There just happened to have been a record number of them this week. But what we do see in the polls is that all of these things take a cumulative effect. Bit by bit, the president's behavior, the president's refusal to release his taxes, the president's refusal to condemn white supremacists, the president's tweeting - all of these things have combined to chip away at the support he needs from voters like suburban women. Although I would say that the president getting coronavirus pretty much tops almost everything else.

KELLY: It has indeed been a week.

Thank you much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. You're welcome.

KELLY: That is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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