President Donald Trump suggested he may have contracted coronavirus from families of fallen troops during a White House event late last month because he couldn’t observe social distancing when “they want to hug me and they want to kiss me.”
The comments, made by Trump during an appearance on Fox Business on Thursday morning, come one week after administration officials announced that Trump has tested positive for the virus and 11 days after the meeting, held on Gold Star families day.
“I didn’t want to cancel that,” Trump said of the Sept. 27 event, which included several dozen guests and several high-ranking military officials. "They all came in and they all talked about their son and daughter and father … They tell me these stories, and I can’t say ‘back up, stand 10 feet away,’ you know? I just can’t do it.
“And I went through like 35 people, and everyone has a different story … They come within an inch of my face sometimes, they want to hug me and they want to kiss me. And they do. And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up. I’m not doing it, but obviously it’s a dangerous thing, I guess, if you go by the COVID thing.”
White House officials have come under public scrutiny in recent days for not requiring social distancing and mask wearing during events with numerous guests, including the announcement of Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, the day before the Gold Star families event.
But administration officials have downplayed those concerns, saying that all visitors to the White House complex are tested and monitored for signs of illness.
The Daily Beast on Wednesday reported that White House officials reached out to some of the military families involved in the Sept. 27 event to warn them they may have been exposed to the virus at the White House.
Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, said Thursday morning that to their knowledge, none of the Gold Star families who attended the event have tested positive for COVID.
In recent days, Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray and Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Gary Thomas have tested positive for the virus, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans in the last seven months.
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — most of whom attended the Gold Star Families event — have gone into self-quarantine in recent days in response to their exposure to those senior officials and the president.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also attended the event. Pentagon officials said he has tested negative for the virus and spent most of the last few days on official travel away from Washington.
Trump said during the Fox Business interview that “I figured there would be a chance that I would catch it” eventually and that following treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “I feel perfect now.”
Earlier in the morning, the president released a new campaign video on social media touting his military and veterans accomplishments over his term in office. In it, he references boosts in military spending, a series of reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs and even the Army’s “all brand-new uniforms with the belt, everybody wanted the belt.”
“There’s never been anything like what I’ve done for the military,” he said in the video. “I just want to let you know there’s never been a president that has your back like I do.”
On Thursday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it will change next week’s scheduled event featuring Trump and is Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, to a virtual event because of Trump’s positive coronavirus diagnosis. Trump said in the Fox Business interview he plans on skipping the debate as a result.
Senior reporter Karen Jowers contributed to this article.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.