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Trump, eager to campaign after COVID-19 diagnosis, has South Lawn rally

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President Trump addressed hundreds of supporters from the White House Truman Balcony on Saturday afternoon, his first in-person public appearance since testing positive for the coronavirus eight days earlier and a clear sign of his eagerness to return to the campaign trail with precious weeks left before election day.

The Trump administration, adopting the defiant rhetoric of the president’s campaign, classified the event as “a peaceful protest” on the official schedule and insisted that it was not a campaign event occurring on the grounds of the White House.

But from the very moment Trump, serenaded by the U.S. Marine Band’s rendition of “Hail to the Chief,” walked out of a draped doorway and quickly removed a light blue face mask, his focus on electoral politics was clear.

“Get out and vote!” he said. “Vote ‘em into oblivion!”

The White House still has not said whether Trump has tested negative for the virus after a week of convalescence, including a three-night stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received experimental treatments. His brief appearance before a group of supporters appeared aimed mostly at sating the president’s desire to return to the campaign trail and set the table for a resumption of rallies Monday.

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Attendees on Saturday, who wore baby blue T-shirts and red MAGA hats while standing close together on the South Lawn, were required to bring masks and were given temperature checks, but few in the crowd seemed to be wearing them as Trump spoke.

Trump’s campaign has now announced three nights of consecutive rallies, beginning with an appearance in Sanford, Fla., on Monday night, followed by events Tuesday and Wednesday night in Johnstown, Pa., and Des Moines, respectively.

“We’re starting very big with our rallies,” he said, “because we cannot allow our country to become a socialist nation.”

The president’s last rally was in Minnesota 11 days ago, the evening after delivering an angry, uncontrolled performance in the first presidential debate, an event that precipitated — along with his positive test for the coronavirus roughly a day later — another downward dip in the polls.

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Although the president is clearly eager to resume campaigning, it’s unclear whether he has a plan to reverse the current trend lines of an election that is already underway in numerous states.

As he has in recent days in nearly 10 hours of phone interviews with friendly cable news and radio hosts, Trump’s 17 minutes of remarks offered a familiar mix of triumphant boasts, rosy predictions and attacks on Democratic nominee Joe Biden and the mainstream media.

More than anything he said, his mere appearance in public again sought to project an image of a healthy president. Trump, who has resumed working in the Oval Office despite the risk to employees there, demonstrated the same nonchalance about the virus that has dismayed a majority of Americans.

Trump promised that a vaccine was coming “very, very soon,” and with that, the sluggish economy, with 18 million people now out of work, would rebound.

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Saturday’s speech came two weeks after Trump’s Rose Garden event that has been labeled a superspreader for the virus. More than two dozen people linked to the White House have contracted the coronavirus since the president’s Sept. 26 event announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court.

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