Trump presses ahead with Tulsa rally despite COVID-19 warnings, infections to staffers

Trump presses ahead with Tulsa rally despite COVID-19 warnings, infections to staffers

U.S. President Donald Trump launched his comeback rally amid a pandemic on Saturday by declaring that “the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” but what was meant to be a show of political force was instead met with thousands of empty seats and new coronavirus cases on his campaign staff.

Ignoring health warnings, Trump went through with his first rally in 110 days in Tulsa, Okla., one of the largest indoor gatherings in the world during a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 120,000 Americans, put 40 million out of work and upended Trump’s reelection bid.

PHOTOS | Precautions taken at Trump rally in Tulsa:

In the hours before the event, crowds were significantly lighter than expected, and campaign officials scrapped plans for Trump to first address an overflow space outdoors. About a third of the seats at his indoor rally were empty.

Trump tried to explain away the crowd size, blaming it on the media for declaring “don’t go, don’t come, don’t do anything” while insisting there were protesters outside “doing bad things,” though the small crowds of pre-rally demonstrators were largely peaceful.

“We begin our campaign,” Trump thundered. “The silent majority is stronger than ever before.”

Just hours before the rally, Trump’s campaign revealed that six staff members who were helping set up for the event had tested positive for the coronavirus. Campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said that “quarantine procedures were immediately implemented,” and that neither the affected staffers nor anyone who was in immediate contact with them would attend the event.

News of the infections came just a short time before Trump departed for Oklahoma, and the president raged to aides that the information had been made public, according to two White House and campaign officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

WATCH | Tulsa rally attendee unconcerned about COVID risk:

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gathered ahead of his first campaign rally in months. 0:44

Onstage, Trump unleashed months of pent-up grievances, accusing the media of favouring his Democratic opponent Joe Biden and defending his handling of the pandemic, which he dubbed the “Kung flu,” a term for the virus that many consider to be racist.

Trump suggested to supporters that he told members of his administration to slow the rate of coronavirus testing in the U.S.

He said the United States has tested 25 million people, and far more than any other country. He also told the crowd that more testing leads to finding more cases of people who test positive.

Trump said that “so I said to my people slow the testing down, please.”

WATCH | Trump supporter at Tulsa rally says she had COVID-19:

Jennifer Helterbrand says she was sick for 16 days but is not going to ‘live in fear’ 1:18

Trump also spent more than 10 minutes — with the crowd laughing along — trying to explain away a pair of odd images from his speech last weekend at West Point, blaming his slippery leather-soled shoes for video of him walking awkwardly down a ramp as he left the podium. And then he declared that he used two hands to drink a cup of water — another image that went viral — because he didn’t want to spill water on his tie.

But Trump also leaned in hard on cultural issues, including the push to tear down statues and rename military bases named after Confederate generals in the wake of nationwide protests about racial injustice.

“The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments. Tear down our statues, and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control,” Trump said. “They want to demolish our heritage so they can impose their new repressive regime in its place.”

A Trump supporter sits in the upper seats of the BOK Center. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Large gatherings in the United States were shut down in March because of the coronavirus. The rally was scheduled over the protests of local health officials as COVID-19 cases spike in many states, while the choice of host city and date — it was originally set for Friday, Juneteenth, and in a city where a 1921 attack by white people on Black people killed as many as 300 — prompted anger amid a national wave of protests against racial injustice.

WATCH | Why many Americans don’t know about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre:

Damario Solomon-Simmons, a civil rights lawyer representing the last living survivor of the massacre in Tulsa, says Black history “has been eradicated from U.S. history.'” 7:40

But Trump and his advisers forged forward, believing that a return to the rally stage would re-energize the president, who is furious that he has fallen behind Biden in polls, and reassure Republicans growing anxious about the state of the presidential race and their ability to hold onto the Senate. But the smaller-than-expected crowds may only increase Republican Party worries.

Published at Sat, 20 Jun 2020 18:03:27 +0000