“The pool was not informed of this ahead of time, and we have not been called back to the White House or Walter Reed,” a pool report said.
Trump instead previewed his surprise in a 73-second video he tweeted to coincide with his appearance.
In the clip, Trump said he had “been getting great reports from the doctors” and praised the hospital, its medical staff, soldiers and first responders.
“I also think we’re gonna pay a little surprise to some of the great patriots that we have out on the street, and they’ve been out there for a long time, and they’ve got Trump flags, and they love our country,” the president said, smiling and appearing more robust than the previous two days. “So I’m not telling anybody but you, but I’m about to make a little surprise visit.”
Trump suggested in the video that his supporters had “more enthusiasm than maybe anybody” and seemed to speak as if his bout with Covid-19 was over, as he conveyed a new understanding of a deadly virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans. Trump’s medical team told reporters on Sunday morning that the president could be discharged as early as Monday, and in television interviews, his allies repeatedly painted pictures of the president as a tough, strong figure who will overcome the virus.
“It’s been a very interesting journey. I learned a lot about Covid,” Trump said in his video on Sunday. “I learned it by really going to school — this is the real school; this isn’t the ‘let’s read the book’ school. And I get it, and I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing and I’m gonna be letting you know about it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that anyone spending 15 minutes or more within six feet of a confirmed Covid patient is at high risk of contracting the disease. The president’s appearance on Sunday in a vehicle with those protecting him alarmed some medical experts.
“That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack,” Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital and an attending physician at Walter Red, wrote on Twitter. “The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.”
Phillips followed up with another tweet a few minutes later: “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by‘ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.“
A former high-ranking Secret Service official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “My immediate reaction is, irresponsible,” but added that “I have to think there was a lot of preparation.”
Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement to POLITICO: “Appropriate precautions were taken in the execution of this movement to protect the President and all those supporting it, including PPE,” or personal protective equipment. “The movement was cleared by the medical team as safe to do.“
Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.