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Deputy Press Secretary On State Of The White House After Trump's Return From Hospital

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The president left the hospital last night, boarded Marine One to helicopter back to the White House, walked out onto the South Portico balcony and took off his mask. He also recorded a message to the nation for Twitter. Here's part of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Don't let it dominate. Don't let it take over your lives. Don't let that happen. We have the greatest country in the world. We're going back. We're going back to work. We're going to be out front. As your leader, I had to do that. I knew there's danger to it, but I had to do it. I stood out front. I led.

KELLY: All right. On the line now from the White House to talk about all this is Brian Morgenstern. He is White House deputy press secretary.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BRIAN MORGENSTERN: Well, thank you very much for having me. It's an honor to be with you.

KELLY: We are glad to have you with us. Let's start with the president's message that we just heard there, saying, don't let it - don't let the virus dominate. He also, as you know, tweeted, don't be afraid of COVID. How should the families of 210,000 Americans and counting who have died? How should they hear that?

MORGENSTERN: Well, the president and all of us certainly grieve with those families. We never wanted this virus to come to our shores. We never wanted anyone to suffer from it. We certainly never wanted, of course, the president to have it, either. The point is that we must go on with our lives. We must safely reopen our country and go to church and school and work and do it in a safe way because the costs of not doing that are just too high. Having more lockdowns where people can't function, where there are cancer screenings that don't happen. There is child abuse that's not reported. There's mental health issues.

KELLY: Speaking...

MORGENSTERN: We need people to persevere and to not live in fear because that's what America is about. It's about resilience.

KELLY: Speaking - forgive me for nudging you along. There's a lot I want to get to with you. You mentioned trying to do this in a safe way, the importance of that. I mentioned the president removed his mask on camera the moment he arrived back at the White House last night, even as he is confirmed positive and contagious. What signal does that send?

MORGENSTERN: Well, he was outside on a balcony with no one, you know, in his proximity.

KELLY: Did he put it back on when he went inside?

MORGENSTERN: And he went back in. He stood at a distance, recorded the video. He wears his mask when he's anywhere near people. Everyone stands back from him and has PPE. They have masks and everything that they need. So the president certainly wanted to send the signal of strength and perseverance to show America and our allies and our enemies, frankly, that he is in charge. He is healthy. He is up to the task, and he wants to set an example, as well.

KELLY: Are people wearing masks inside the White House today at their desks in your office and the press office?

MORGENSTERN: So I am currently in my office with the door closed. And so you can hear me better, I don't have my mask on. But when then I exit my office and I'm around anyone, I have my mask on at all times. So the staff here at the White House has masks always available to them. And we want them to wear those. And we distance, of course, when we can. But then if there's a reason we can't, you know, it's masks on. But it's generally speaking masks on regardless.

KELLY: I mean, why not just have a rule? We're at work - masks on.

MORGENSTERN: Well, the - because everyone needs personal responsibility, and we have our masks on. We want - especially when there's been positive cases, everyone is continuing to get tested. We encourage people to work remotely if they need to do that to feel safe. And as I said, if we can't distance, there are certainly masks on. And there's hand sanitizer virtually everywhere. We're deep cleaning the building on a daily basis. We have a phenomenal cleaning crew that does an outstanding job. So we are doing the business of the people but in a safe way. We can't be in fear. We have to persevere.

KELLY: Your colleague, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany...

MORGENSTERN: Yes, ma'am.

KELLY: ...Confirmed that she has tested positive. Two other staffers in your office have. We certainly send our best wishes for a speedy recovery. Can you give us the number? How many people working inside the White House have tested positive at this point?

MORGENSTERN: So we're not talking about that. We're not commenting on that. I will say that I'm very pleased to...

KELLY: Are there more positive cases that have not yet been made public?

MORGENSTERN: Not that I'm aware of. I will say that I'm pleased that - of course, thank you for the kind words, by the way. And Kayleigh is doing very well. I've spoken with her a number of times today. She has no symptoms. She feels great. She is isolating in her apartment, per the medical guidance. And as are my colleagues. But everyone is young and healthy. And they're going to get through this just fine.

KELLY: Let me turn you, if I may, to the coronavirus relief bill or lack thereof, as it happens, because today the president ordered his team to stop talks with Democrats on a new round of COVID-19 aid until after the election. Why?

MORGENSTERN: Well, in truth, there hadn't been good-faith negotiations on the side of the Democrats for quite a long time. We put forth a number of proposals and, in fact, had come up from a trillion to 1.6 trillion. That was for programs like jobs, the PPP program, unemployment insurance. It was for schools - getting schools open so parents don't have to do double duty. We wanted - of course, we've - we even put forth a stand-alone airline bill to keep people from being laid off. We have put forth a number of proposals to directly address problems. But the speaker, unfortunately, really wouldn't come off her opening offer, though she put forth a bunch of theater about it. Finally, it was the president who announced it. But really, we hadn't had good-faith negotiations for a while, unfortunately.

KELLY: I guess I'm wondering - you know, as you will have seen, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, has been warning about too little support and that it's going to hurt the economic recovery. Airlines are begging for relief - not to mention millions of Americans begging for some help. How is this a smart move for a president campaigning for reelection who is arguing he should be reelected based on his economic record?

MORGENSTERN: Well, we certainly have, as I said, came up from a trillion to 1.6 trillion. Unfortunately, the speaker decided that she'd rather have zero than 1.6 trillion dollars. That is not a very reasonable place to land. We have again put forth airline relief. We want PPP for small businesses. We want all of these things. So the president has been very patient. Our economic team has been very patient and has negotiated in good faith at length. And unfortunately, we just had not had any kind of serious proposals from the other side or any movement. So unfortunately, the president had to announce it. But it sort of has been going on for a while.

KELLY: That is White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern speaking to us from the White House.

Thank you for taking our questions. We hope you'll come back and take some more next time.

MORGENSTERN: Absolutely. Great to be with you. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.