Table of Contents
- 1 ‘I Think I’m Doing Very Well,’ Trump Says
- 2 Video Shows Trump Tossing Hats to Crowd Before Positive Test for Virus
Two Republican senators on the pivotal Judiciary Committee have tested positive for the coronavirus after attending White House events last week announcing Mr. Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, throwing the future of her Supreme Court confirmation hearings into question.
The senators, Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, and Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, both of whom announced their test results on Friday, are among several people who have tested positive since attending the events last Saturday.
Others include Bill Stepien, President Trump’s campaign manager; Melania Trump, the first lady; John I. Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame; and Kellyanne Conway, the former top White House adviser, who left her post over the summer. Ms. Conway announced her positive result in a Twitter post late Friday night.
The Sept. 26 Rose Garden ceremony for Judge Barrett was most likely not a “super-spreader” event, because it was outdoors. However, many top Republicans attended without masks or social distancing, raising concerns that others might have contracted the virus but did not yet know. And someone who was infected and did not have symptoms could have transmitted the virus to others during indoor discussions at the White House.
Leading Republicans said they planned to continue “full steam ahead” to confirm Judge Barrett before Election Day. But Mr. Trump’s illness, along with the fact that Senator Tillis and Senator Lee sit on the Judiciary Committee, has raised questions about whether the party’s extraordinarily ambitious timetable could hold.
Mr. Tillis’s diagnosis also dealt a blow to Republicans’ hopes of retaining control of the Senate, given that he was already facing a difficult re-election battle.
Top Senate Democrats demanded on Friday that Republicans slow their plans for confirming Judge Barrett, saying that if Republicans proceed with hearings without an understanding of the full extent of the virus’s spread from the Sept. 26 events, an “already illegitimate process will become a dangerous one.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, responding to Senator Tillis’s announcement on Friday evening that he had “no symptoms” but would isolate himself for 10 days at home, called on Republicans to delay the confirmation hearings.
“We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for Covid, and there may be more. I wish my colleagues well,” Mr. Schumer said. “It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so.”
The confirmation of a sixth conservative-leaning justice to the court would be the culmination of a decades-long conservative project, an effort spearheaded by the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Judge Barrett, 48, tested negative on Friday, a White House official said. Two officials with knowledge of her medical history said that she had already had the coronavirus and recovered earlier this year.
Judge Barrett was in close contact with Mr. Trump at the White House last weekend. She also worked closely with several White House officials and met with dozens of Republican senators on Capitol Hill, including Senator McConnell and Senator Lee.
A video posted on Twitter showed Senator Lee hugging people at the event. He said he had tested negative at the White House on Saturday.
It can take several days for someone who has been exposed to the virus to develop symptoms or to test positive. Anyone tested within just a day or two of exposure is likely to receive a negative result even if they are infected.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said on Friday that his panel would begin four days of public hearings on Judge Barrett’s nomination on Oct. 12, as scheduled. Senator Tillis and Senator Lee said they would isolate themselves for 10 days, which would enable them to emerge in time for the hearings.
In an interview on Friday, Senator McConnell suggested that the virus’s spread through Republican circles could mean that more lawmakers would participate in the hearings virtually. “This sort of underscores the need to do that,” he said.
But Democrats said that virtual hearings on such a consequential matter would be unacceptable.
President Trump left the White House for medical monitoring at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday, throwing the presidential campaign into uncharted terrain as both parties grappled with the political fallout from his coronavirus diagnosis.
Never in recent memory has a candidate been hospitalized for an indefinite period in the final weeks of a presidential race, creating an extraordinary situation with uncertain political dynamics for both sides.
As his helicopter landed at Walter Reed, a short video of the president appeared in his Twitter feed, in which he thanked Americans for their support. “I’m going to Walter Reed hospital,” he said. “I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out.”
Mr. Trump’s illness places the virus firmly at the center of the presidential campaign for the final weeks of the election, intensifying the focus on an issue where voters overwhelmingly given the president low marks for his performance.
With the president trailing in national and many swing state polls, Republicans worried that his medical condition would significantly hamper his ability to change the trajectory of the race into his favor.
The Trump campaign announced that it was suspending his events and those of his family members, halting the crowded rallies that energized the president and his supporters.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., after announcing that he had tested negative for the coronavirus — twice — said he would continue campaigning as planned, offering prayers for the president’s recovery and a forceful plea for Americans to wear masks at a campaign event in Michigan on Friday afternoon. His campaign pulled down its negative advertising, though some ads may take several days to stop airing on television.
Earlier Friday, Mr. Trump did not appear on a scheduled call with governors from across the country, and Vice President Mike Pence took his place.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, Alyssa Farah, said that the president had not transferred power to Vice President Mike Pence. The president, she said, remains in charge.
On Friday evening, Mr. Trump’s physician, Sean P. Conley, said in a brief statement that the president was “doing very well” and had started taking remdesivir, an experimental drug that has received emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration to treat hospitalized Covid-19 patients.
“He is not requiring any supplemental oxygen, but in consultation with specialists we have elected to initiate remdesivir therapy,” Dr. Conley said. “He has completed his first dose and is resting comfortably.”
Still, it was unclear when the president would leave the hospital, and far from certain that the final two presidential debates would proceed as planned later this month.
Late Friday night, a reporter with The Daily Caller, a conservative news and opinion site, posted a video on Twitter that he said showed Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, greeting some of the president’s supporters outside the hospital. Only some of them wore masks.
“He’s doing well,” Mr. Meadows, who was masked, said when someone in the crowd asked about the president’s condition. “He’s in good spirits. He loves America.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. returned to the campaign trail on Friday afternoon after testing negative for the coronavirus, sending his prayers to President Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, and imploring Americans to wear a mask.
“My wife, Jill, and I pray that they’ll make a quick and full recovery,” Mr. Biden said in an outdoor speech in Grand Rapids, Mich., wearing a mask as he spoke. “This is not a matter of politics. It’s a bracing reminder to all of us that we have to take this virus seriously. It’s not going away automatically. We have to do our part to be responsible.”
Mr. Biden added, “The news is a reminder that we as a nation need to do better in dealing with this pandemic.”
Around midday Friday, the Biden campaign disclosed that Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, had tested negative, an announcement that came hours after Mr. Trump revealed that he and the first lady had tested positive.
Mr. Biden appeared in Grand Rapids several hours later than had originally been scheduled. He said he had been tested twice on Friday, and that a second event planned for his Michigan trip had been scrapped.
“Based on the crowd size and an indoor — it was concluded by the docs that best not to do it,” he said.
As Mr. Biden headed to Michigan, his wife, Dr. Biden, went ahead with campaigning in New Hampshire, and she was scheduled to make several stops in Minnesota on Saturday.
Mr. Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, tested negative on Friday as well, the campaign said. Ms. Harris and Mr. Emhoff continued with planned campaign trips to Nevada and North Carolina, respectively. A virtual fund-raiser with Ms. Harris and former President Barack Obama also went ahead.
Mr. Biden’s test result was disclosed in a statement from his primary care physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, that was distributed by the campaign. Mr. Biden appeared on the debate stage with Mr. Trump on Tuesday night, though the two stood far apart.
It can take several days after exposure for the virus to reach levels that are detectable by a test. People show symptoms on average around five days after exposure, but as late as 14 days.
News of Mr. Trump’s positive test comes after Mr. Biden — after months of limited travel amid the pandemic — had returned to the campaign trail. A train trip through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Wednesday was his most active day of campaigning in months. On Thursday, his campaign said it would resume in-person canvassing in battleground states.
Former President Barack Obama and Senator Kamala Harris of California offered their prayers to President Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, on Friday evening, colliding with the timing of an emailed fund-raising appeal from the Trump campaign.
The subject line: “Lyin’ Obama.”
“Lyin’ Obama and Phony Kamala Harris are calling up their Liberal MEGA DONORS to come and rescue Joe Biden’s failing campaign,” read the message. “They’re holding a COASTAL ELITE fund-raiser RIGHT NOW.”
Just minutes earlier, Mr. Obama and Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, had opened their virtual fund-raiser by wishing the president and his wife a speedy recovery, with the former president urging all Americans to hope for the president’s recovery even in the middle of a contentious campaign.
The combative tone of the email came hours after the Biden campaign pulled down all its negative ads against the president, though some already in circulation could take time to stop airing.
The Trump campaign has announced no plans to stop its attack ads against the Democratic nominee.
During the online fund-raiser for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Obama told watchers: “Even when we’re in the midst of big political battles with issues that have a lot at stake, that we’re all Americans and we’re all human beings, and we want to make sure everybody is healthy. Michelle and I want to make sure we acknowledge the president and the first lady at this difficult time.”
Ms. Harris, who is running for vice president alongside Joseph R. Biden Jr., offered her “deepest prayers,” adding, “Let it be a reminder to all of us that we must remain vigilant and take care of ourselves and take care of each other.”
The two officials, who were joined by the actor Michael B. Jordan, also tried to assuage concerns and dispel misinformation about voting, particularly casting ballots by mail. Mr. Trump has spent weeks waging a disinformation campaign about the integrity of the American electoral system.
All three said they plan to cast their ballots by mail.
“I’m going to fill it out at my kitchen table and I’m going to get over to the drop box and I’m going to drop it off as early as I can,” said Ms. Harris, who added she had the date to request her ballot circled on her calendar.
Mr. Obama, who rattled off the name of his polling place in Hyde Park, Ill., said he had cast mail-in ballots since winning the presidency, in part to avoid the crowds that slow down lines when he appears.
“When I vote in person, there’s a price,” he said. “It slows down a whole bunch of folks.”
As Democrats offered well wishes to President Trump and his family on Friday, some of them quickly pivoted to scathing denunciations of a president who has tried to turn the wearing of masks, a basic epidemiological safeguard, into a culture-war issue to motivate his conservative base.
Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio — a state Mr. Trump won handily in 2016 but is now a jump-ball battleground — slammed the president and his family for flouting mask-wearing regulations at Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland, and criticized Mr. Trump for attending a fund-raiser even after a close aide tested positive.
“I wish the President, first lady, and White House staffers a speedy recovery,” Mr. Brown said in a statement. “I’m extremely troubled by the reports that the President’s family and staff refused to wear masks at the debate in Cleveland, and then held a fund-raiser,” he added, “endangering all who worked at and attended these events.”
He called on the president to cancel his big public events, where Mr. Trump’s MAGA faithful pack in tightly, sans masks, as a matter of pride. “He owes it to the 200,000 Americans who have died because of his callousness to wear a mask and cancel his super-spreader rallies,” Mr. Brown said.
On Friday, Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, a pastor, said in an interview that he hoped the president’s diagnosis would be “a blessing” that convinced those who have dismissed the virus to take it more seriously.
“Maybe people who believed this was a hoax will now believe it’s real and begin to take precautions,” Mr. Cleaver said.
Mr. Trump has scrapped rallies planned for this week as he goes into isolation with mild symptoms; it is not clear when, or if, he will resume them.
Ben Rhodes, a speechwriter and national security official in the Obama White House, noted that Mr. Trump now found himself housebound after months of ridiculing Joseph R. Biden Jr. for remaining in his “basement” to slow the spread of the pandemic.
“There was an entire campaign built around dunking on Joe Biden for wearing a mask, not allowing big crowds, and doing virtual events from his home,” Mr. Rhodes, who supports the former vice president, wrote on Twitter.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut took aim at Mr. Trump for refusing to take precautions even after a series of close calls with infected people earlier this year.
“COVID didn’t sneak up on the President,” Mr. Murphy wrote on Twitter. “Since the spring, the White House has had multiple positive cases, including several people who have direct contact with Trump. And yet he didn’t wear a mask at public events or private meetings at the White House.”
Some members of Congress Friday called for more widespread testing of lawmakers and their staffs in the wake of President Trump’s diagnosis.
“I really do think that there’s a strong possibility that every time we convene in a session, it has the potential to be a super-spreader event,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said.
With Senator Mike Lee’s positive diagnosis, she noted that several members of the legislative branch have now been infected, heightening the need for more testing.
“I do believe that regular testing is a good idea so that we can contact-trace,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think it is incredibly important that we be tested — at very least, it doesn’t have to happen every day, it doesn’t have to happen every three days. But I do think every time we have 400 members getting on a plane from different parts of the country, we may want to test upon arrival, or have some sort of testing protocol.”
Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, the highest ranking Republican on the House Administration committee, called it a “travesty that we don’t have a testing modality system in place.”
“We ought to be able to work with our partners in the private sector or even the Air Force, which has offered to help and get a testing regime in place that’s going to help the people who protect this House every day,” Mr. Davis said. “Let’s begin to protect them too. And that includes the Capitol Police, the Architect of the Capitol Employees, the folks who are here on the grounds like members of the media.”
As members left Washington to return home, they expressed concern about the virus spreading in their districts and disappointment and frustration that Congress had still not reached a deal on another coronavirus relief package.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Representative Anthony G. Brown, Democrat of Maryland, adding that he had consituents “whose businesses are shuttered, who have been furloughed for far too long. They need help.”
President Trump was diagnosed with Covid-19 nearly four years to the day after he seized upon a video of Hillary Clinton, afflicted by pneumonia and stumbling into her motorcade, to prove she was too weak to be president.
“Here’s a woman, she’s supposed to fight all of these different things, and she can’t make it 15 feet to her car,” Mr. Trump said at a campaign event in Pennsylvania on Oct. 1, 2016.
At that point Mr. Trump flailed his arms in a crude pantomime of helplessness, sidled a few feet from the podium, and impersonated Mrs. Clinton’s unsteady attempt to climb into a van after that year’s commemoration of the World Trade Center attacks in Lower Manhattan.
“She’s home resting right now,” he added contemptuously of his opponent, who was running a fever and suffering from a hacking cough.
Mr. Trump is now confined to a hospital, battling a serious illness as his re-election campaign enters its final month.
Mrs. Clinton was well enough to return to the campaign trail after a few days rest and a course of antibiotics, although her symptoms persisted for a few weeks.
The president is suffering from a potentially deadly virus with no similar treatment. And unlike Mrs. Clinton, who was told to rest but otherwise unrestricted in her movements, Mr. Trump is now under isolation, depriving him of the big public appearances that give him energy and provide a showcase for his brawn-and-bravura political brand.
“He weaponized Hillary’s health scare, and he clearly relishes the role of being a strong man,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a top adviser to Mrs. Clinton in 2016, in an interview on Friday. “I’m sure he’ll try to figure out a way to make his own health problems work for him. But he may have come up against the one factor he cannot control.”
What Mr. Trump faces, first and foremost, is a personal health crisis as grave as any faced by a president in recent history: He is 74 years old and overweight, which puts him at elevated risk for complications.
The political risks are also potentially dire, focusing attention, as few developments have, on his mishandling of the virus at the precise moment he was trying to pivot to offense.
That threat is compounded by the fact that his predicament undermines his brand — vitality, stamina and strength — at a time when he has sought to portray his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., as weak, basement-trapped and lacking the mental or physical capacity to replace him.
For years, Mr. Trump has been deeply concerned about managing public perceptions of his health. Earlier this year he brushed aside suggestions he was in ill health after he teetered down a ramp at West Point’s graduation ceremony.
In 2018, his personal physician Dr. Harold Bornstein told CNN that Mr. Trump had personally dictated a letter, released during his presidential campaign, that concluded, “His physical strength and stamina are extraordinary.”
President Trump’s diagnosis did not significantly change the behavior of some of his closest advisers, who were walking around the White House complex without masks on Friday morning.
A CNN reporter spotted Johnny McEntee, one of Mr. Trump’s top advisers and someone often in proximity to the president, without a mask, on his way to get a coronavirus test.
When the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, briefed reporters outside, he too was maskless.
So was Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a Trump adviser who is not an epidemiologist but whose counsel to the president that the virus is not resurging has taken root with him.
Dr. Atlas’s optimistic projections have put him at odds with many members of the White House coronavirus task force, and have sparked alarm among some Trump aides. Mr. Trump has repeatedly mocked mask-wearing and has fostered a culture at the White House where aides have not always felt comfortable covering their faces.
A spokesman for Mr. Trump, Judd Deere, confirmed later on Friday that masks were not required on White House grounds.
“In addition to encouraging social distancing, readily available hand sanitizer, regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, and recommended facial coverings, those in close proximity to the president continue to be tested for Covid-19 to ensure exposure is limited to the greatest extent possible,” Mr. Deere said.
Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor who sat within 12 feet of President Trump while moderating Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland, said on Friday that the president and his entourage did not wear masks during an afternoon walk-through of the debate hall hours before the event began.
“The president and all of his top people, looking at the podium, looking at the lighting, what the arrangement was going to be, none of them were wearing masks,” Mr. Wallace said during a Fox News appearance, adding: “There seems to have been a disregard for the risks of this virus.”
Mr. Wallace’s account came shortly after he offered some stark advice for his network’s viewers: “Wear the damn mask.”
“Follow the science,” Mr. Wallace said on Friday episodes of “Fox & Friends” and other Fox News programs. “If I could say one thing to all of the people out there watching: Forget the politics. This is a public safety health issue.”
Mr. Wallace also said that Mr. Trump and his family arrived at the debate venue on Tuesday afternoon, which would have been too late for them to get tested by the Cleveland Clinic before the debate that night. The clinic had been contracted to oversee the health and safety protocols for the event.
The clinic said in a statement on Friday that “individuals traveling with both candidates, including the candidates themselves, had been tested and tested negative by their respective campaigns.”
“Yeah, there was an honor system when it came to the people that came into the hall from the two campaigns,” Mr. Wallace said.
The anchor, who has expressed regret about the chaotic nature of Tuesday’s debate, said he planned to take a coronavirus test on Monday on the advice of his doctors, who said that any infection could take several days to generate a positive result.
Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of the Fox Corporation, and several of the biggest stars at Fox News, including Bret Baier and Sean Hannity, were also potentially exposed after attending Tuesday’s debate, and the network is planning for them to be tested, according to a person familiar with its plans.
Nearly a dozen coronavirus cases have been tied to the debate, according to a statement from the Cleveland mayor’s office. City officials said on Friday that there were 11 known cases of the virus “stemming from pre-debate planning and setup,” and that “the majority of cases” had affected out-of-state residents. The city has been conducting contact-tracing through its public health department.
During the debate between Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump downplayed the virus and mocked Mr. Biden for wearing a mask. “I don’t wear masks like him,” the president said. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask.”
Mr. Wallace — who said his own wife and children, who also attended, wore masks in the hall — estimated that he was sitting “10 or 12 feet” from Mr. Trump and that the candidates were roughly eight feet apart onstage. “I never got any closer to him than what you saw on TV,” he said, noting that Mr. Trump “had decided there would be no opening handshake — and thank God for that!”
President Trump’s failure to keep himself and his innermost circle safe from the coronavirus will dominate the next phase of the campaign in the battleground states — the exact issue he had hoped not to be running on, according to officials and strategists of both parties.
But party leaders were divided on Friday over whether Mr. Trump’s positive test might move voters in these crucial states, where Joseph R. Biden Jr. has an edge in polling. Democrats predicted that support for Mr. Trump would erode further, while Republicans doubted much would change in an electorate so deeply dug in on approval or disdain for the president.
“I don’t think this is going to change anyone’s opinion of who to vote for,” said Sam DeMarco, the chair of the Allegheny County Republican Party in Pennsylvania. “If he recovers quickly, he’s going to come out looking stronger. It’s going to look like the therapeutics we have are working.’’
But Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat who attended the presidential debate on Tuesday, said Mr. Trump’s diagnosis was karmic payback.
“I think it highlights the issue that is his Achilles heel,’’ he said. “It keeps the focus on his lack of leadership, his arrogance, his tempting the gods. I think that is now going to be a signature of this election. There are all these other issues, but there’s just one issue: his failure around the pandemic.’’
Morgan Jackson, a Democratic strategist in North Carolina, said that the development was extremely damaging to the president in a state that is a must-win.
“Think about the next 10 or 14 days; there will be 24-hour wall-to-wall coverage of the president’s health,’’ he said. “This is a president who’s chastised people for wearing masks and for social distancing, and all of a sudden his behavior to not take this virus seriously has affected his own house.”
A Pennsylvania Republican strategist, Mark Harris, speculated that Mr. Trump’s infection might generate sympathy. Mr. Harris cited the example of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was hospitalized with Covid-19 in April and recovered.
“It’s possible that if he comes across in a way that seems more human, there’s some potential political benefit to that,’’ he said.
“I do not see anything moving Trump’s base away from him at this point,” said Pennsylvania State Representative Leanne Krueger, a Democrat from the Philadelphia suburbs.
“This is a very, very close race,” she added. “For every suburban woman in the Philadelphia suburbs motivated to vote against Trump, there’s another voter in Northeast Pennsylvania or Southwest Pennsylvania going to vote for him no matter what.”
Plans for the upcoming debates remain in flux as the Commission on Presidential Debates considers its options in light of President Trump’s positive test for the coronavirus, according to two people with knowledge of the commission’s thinking.
A town hall-style debate between Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, but members of the commission are in discussions with the Trump and Biden campaigns about whether the event can go on as planned, one of the people said.
Next week’s vice-presidential debate, set to be held in Salt Lake City on Oct. 7, is expected to take place as scheduled, the commission confirmed on Friday.
The debate commission, a bipartisan nonprofit group, had been expected as soon as Friday to formally announce changes to the debate format in reaction to the chaos of Tuesday’s first matchup between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump.
Those new rules are now likely to be delayed, as the commission focuses on the broader question of whether the upcoming debates can be safely conducted in the first place.
In an age when school classes, court trials and City Hall meetings are being held remotely on Zoom, it was unclear what the prospects for holding a remote debate might be.
President Trump’s bombshell announcement early Friday morning that he and the first lady had tested positive for the coronavirus has set off a frenzy in the White House and beyond as politicians and operatives who have interacted with Mr. Trump in recent days have raced to get their own tests and, in some cases, report the results.
Here is a quick look at the people in Mr. Trump’s orbit and beyond who have spoken publicly on Thursday and Friday about their health and the virus, taken from official statements, announcements made on social media, and spokespeople.
It can take several days after exposure for the virus to reach levels that are detectable by a test. People show symptoms on average around five days after exposure, but as late as 14 days.
Who has tested positive:
Who has tested negative:
Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary
William P. Barr, the attorney general
Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff
Dan Scavino, the White House deputy chief of staff
Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser
Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter
Barron Trump, Mr. Trump’s son
Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee
Betsy DeVos, the education secretary
President Trump’s positive coronavirus test has raised the possibility, however remote, that he could become incapacitated or potentially die in office if his symptoms worsened.
While that outcome remains highly unlikely, and few in Washington were willing to discuss it on Friday, the Constitution and Congress long ago put in place a plan of succession.
The Constitution makes clear that the vice president is first in line to succeed the president should he or she die in office, and can step in to temporarily take on the duties of the presidency should the commander in chief become incapacitated. Vice President Mike Pence, 61, tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday.
The ascension of a vice president under such circumstances has not been that rare in American history. Eight times a vice president has assumed the nation’s highest office because of the president’s death, most recently in 1963, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when Lyndon B. Johnson became president. In 1974, Vice President Gerald Ford became president upon the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
The Constitution leaves it to Congress to decide what would happen if the vice president also died or was unable to perform the duties of the presidency. Congress has passed several laws over the years. The Presidential Succession Act was enacted in 1947 after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (It was tweaked again in 2006.) The statute states that the speaker of the House is next in line, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate, and then members of the cabinet, starting with the secretary of state.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 80, said on Friday that she had been tested for the virus out of an “abundance of caution,” and a spokesman later revealed she tested negative.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is the current president pro tempore in the Senate. He is 87.
A White House spokesman said Friday that Mr. Trump had not transferred power to Mr. Pence.
“No transfer,” said the spokesman, Judd Deere. “The president is in charge.”
With only a month before Election Day, a legal battle is erupting in Texas over an order this week by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to limit the number of drop-off locations for voters to cast absentee ballots.
Voter-advocacy groups moved swiftly to block the order with a lawsuit asserting that the limited access would disenfranchise many of the state’s most vulnerable voters, depriving them of the opportunity to vote absentee rather than risk exposure to Covid-19.
The order, which applies to the entire state, would limit each county to just one drop-off location. It has provoked an intense pushback in Texas’s most populous counties, including Harris, where Houston is located, and Travis, home to Austin. The lawsuit said that voters in those counties, both of which lean Democratic, will now be forced to “travel further distances, face longer waits and risk exposure” to the virus to mail their ballots at a single location.
Attorney General Ken Paxton is “evaluating the issue” and is poised to “aggressively defend” Mr. Abbott’s order, said Kayleigh Date, a spokeswoman.
The 19-page petition, which asks a federal judge in Austin to strike down the order as “unreasonable, unfair and unconstitutional,” was filed by the Texas and National League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters of Texas and two voters who said they would be disenfranchised by Mr. Abbott’s order.
Ralph Edelbach, 82, who lives in Cypress, near Houston, said the closure of all but one of the 11 designated mail-in sites in Harris County will force him to drive 36 miles to drop off his absentee ballot. Before the order, the nearest location was 16 miles away, the lawsuit said. Barbara Mason, a 71-year-old resident of Austin, said she worries that the increased driving time will ‘“unnecessarily expose” her to Covid-19.
The plaintiffs contended that Mr. Abbott’s order will also pose additional obstacles to voters of color.
Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, described Abbott’s order as “voter suppression, plain and simple.”
John Wittman, the governor’s spokesman said in an email that Mr. Abbott, instead of limiting voting access, has “expanded access to voting” by increasing the time period during which voters can submit their ballots.
“The additional time provided for those who want to submit their mail-in ballot in person is sufficient to accommodate the limited number of people who have traditionally used that voting strategy,” Mr. Wittman said.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, raised concerns about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s views on in vitro fertilization on Friday and urged the Senate not to confirm her.
Ms. Duckworth’s two daughters were conceived using in vitro fertilization, or I.V.F., and her youngest became the first infant to appear on the Senate floor in 2018.
In her letter, Ms. Duckworth said she felt “dread and anguish” when she learned that Judge Barrett “likely doesn’t believe my little Maile and my growing Abigail should have ever been born in the first place.”
Judge Barrett, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, signed a newspaper ad in 2006 that was placed by an anti-abortion group in Indiana called St. Joseph County Right to Life. The group has made statements opposing in vitro fertilization, a process that often involves discarding fertilized embryos.
Judd Deere, a spokesman for the White House, did not immediately respond to a question about Judge Barrett’s views on I.V.F. but pointed to statements she had made about her commitment to the rule of law.
“As Judge Barrett said on the day she was nominated,” Mr. Deere wrote in an email Friday, “‘A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.’ ”
The 2006 newspaper ad, which had hundreds of signatories including Judge Barrett, did not mention in vitro fertilization. It said that the signatories would “defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death.”
In her letter, Ms. Duckworth wrote that “St. Joseph County Right to Life is an organization whose views are considered radical even within the larger anti-choice movement, in part due to its stated belief that a critical step of the in vitro fertilization process that gave me my children is equivalent to manslaughter.”
Jackie Appleman, the executive director of the group, which is now called Right to Life Michiana, declined to comment when reached by phone on Friday. On Thursday, The Guardian reported Ms. Appleman as saying that she opposed the discarding of embryos during the in vitro fertilization process and likened it to abortion.
“We support the criminalization of the doctors who perform abortions,” Ms. Appleman was reported as saying. “At this point we are not supportive of criminalizing the women.”
Ms. Duckworth urged her colleagues in the Senate not to confirm Judge Barrett’s nomination. “I fear that, if confirmed to the nation’s highest court, Judge Barrett would be unable to resist the temptation of overturning decades of judicial precedent in an effort to force every American family to adhere to her individual moral code,” she added.