For many, President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis on Friday affirmed what they already felt: that the White House’s approach to combating the pandemic had risked the lives of not only millions of Americans but the Commander-in-Chief himself.
That is not how U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz saw it.
Speaking to Fox News' Tucker Carlson that night, the Panhandle Republican said Trump’s positive test was a signal for the country to push ahead with a full reopening of the country’s economy.
“If this virus can get into the Oval (Office), into the body of the president, there is no place where it cannot possibly infect one of our fellow Americans,” Gaetz said.
In the days since Trump became the world’s most famous coronavirus patient, Florida’s top Republicans have appeared unfazed by the development. They also aren’t blaming their party leader for an aversion to masks and social distancing protocols that public health experts say likely imperiled his health and those he has encountered while infected.
Their response, instead, has been “business as usual.” Keep moving onward — with reopening Florida’s economy without a mask mandate, with campaign events and with U.S. Senate confirmation proceedings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
In a radio interview recorded hours after Trump tweeted his positive test, Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on reopening schools, suggesting the science confirmed it was safe and calling those who say otherwise “the flat earthers of our day.”
Democrats in Florida hoped Trump’s hospitalization would make DeSantis reconsider a recent order that rendered local mask mandates toothless. In a letter to DeSantis this weekend, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said DeSantis has relied on doctors and scientists favored by Trump who have no expertise in public health.
“The notion that we are still debating (a mask mandate) seems incomprehensible given the recent infections of the First Family," Gelber wrote, "and the horrific impact the virus has had on our own residents.”
DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo said Trump’s diagnosis hadn’t changed the governor’s opinion on this.
“He believes the people in the state of Florida will act accordingly and act the right way and there’s no need for a mandate because of the precedent that sets when it comes to government authority,” Piccolo said.
That argument, though, is made while the president’s actions defy guidelines for masks and social distancing suggested by his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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On Sept. 26, Trump presided over a celebration of Barrett’s nomination in the White House Rose Garden that was mostly sans mask. Trump officials, Republicans and others were seated closely and caught on camera hugging and talking well within six feet. The event is now linked to positive coronavirus tests for University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. In all, at least a dozen people in Trump’s inner circle have tested positive, including his campaign manager and spokeswoman.
Two U.S. senators who sit on the Judiciary Committee, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, attended the celebration and contracted the virus. Democrats have since called for the Senate to slow the committee’s confirmation hearings for Barrett.
But Florida’s junior U.S. senator, Republican Rick Scott, said Congress should push ahead with Lee and Tillis participating virtually. If Democrats are afraid to show up because of coronavirus, “maybe that will speed up the whole process," Scott said.
Trump spent the two days before the Rose Garden celebration in Jacksonville, where he tossed hats to a mask-free crowd, and held a more intimate gathering with Hispanic supporters at his Doral resort. Air Force One was supposed to deliver Trump to Sanford for a Friday rally; instead, Marine One took him to the hospital.
Florida Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters said Monday that the Doral event followed proper guidelines, adding "we try to at almost all of our events.”
Over the weekend, Gruters led a group of Republicans knocking on doors in Manatee County and delivering campaign materials in plastic wrap. Other GOP events have flouted precautions. At the height of Florida’s outbreak in August, the campaign held a “MAGA Meet-up” in Tampa that packed a room. Attendees didn’t comply with local coronavirus measures and coughing could be heard continuously.
Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez told reporters on a call Monday that Trump “cannot wait to get on the campaign trail" in Florida, a state critical to his re-election chances. His team will fill the void momentarily with virtual events but Florida could soon see Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s children in the weeks ahead.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, visited Haitian and Cuban communities in South Florida on Monday.
Trump left Walter Reed on Monday evening. Shortly before his release, he tweeted: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”