By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump made his first public appearance since returning to the White House on Monday from a three-day stay in hospital for COVID-19, even as his aides remained silent on whether he is still contagious.
Standing alone and not wearing a mask, Trump spoke from the White House balcony at an event called “a peaceful protest for law & order,” attended by a few hundred people standing on the lawn below. His appearance is seen as a first step toward resuming full campaigning next week.
Speaking without hesitation, Trump appeared to be back to his usual rallying form, boasting about his record and hurling unsubstantiated allegations against his opponents as a packed crowd of supporters chanted, “We love you.”
It was the first public event Trump has held since he was released from the hospital on Monday, when some observers watching his return to the White House said he appeared at times to be short of breath.
The White House has released videos and Trump has called into television shows since then, but this was the public’s first chance to see the president live.
The White House has not released the results of Trump’s latest COVID-19 test, and has declined to say when he last tested negative. A White House spokeswoman said on Friday that Trump would be tested for COVID-19 and would not go out in public if it was determined he could still spread the virus.
Scott Atlas, the doctor advising Trump, declined to comment on Trump’s last test when approached by Reuters outside the event cordon. He was not wearing a mask.
Trump, who has campaigned on a law-and-order theme during recent months of sometimes violent protests for racial justice, told Saturday’s gathering that the Republican Party had the support of America’s police forces.
“We have law enforcement watching,” he said. “We’re on the side of right.”
Trump’s efforts to portray himself as tough on crime have had little impact on his standing in national opinion polls, which show him trailing his Democratic challenger Joe Biden by double digits. But the gap between the two candidates is narrower in the battleground states that may determine who wins the White House.
(Reporting by James Oliphant and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by James Oliphant and Raphael Satter; Editing by Ross Colvin and Rosalba O’Brien)