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US election 2020: Trump ready to return to public events, says doctor

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US President Donald Trump has completed his course of treatment for Covid-19 and can return to public engagements this weekend, his physician has said.

Dr Sean Conley said the president had responded “extremely well” to medication and had “remained stable”.

Mr Trump later said he would probably take another Covid test on Friday and hoped to hold a rally over the weekend.

The president earlier pulled out of next Thursday’s TV debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden.

He said he was “not going to waste my time on a virtual debate” after organisers said it would have to take place remotely because Mr Trump had tested positive for coronavirus.

The move sparked a row about how and when further debates would take place.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat in Washington, said she planned to introduce legislation on Friday to establish a commission to assess Mr Trump’s fitness for office.

A statement announcing the move said the commission would be set up under the 25th Amendment, which outlines how a sitting president can be stripped of power if they are deemed unable to conduct the duties of the office.

Ms Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that serious questions concerning Mr Trump’s health were still unanswered, and described the president as being in an “altered state”. 

Any serious consideration of the measure is unlikely, but it will serve as a political tool to raise questions about Mr Trump’s health.

Mr Trump called Ms Pelosi “crazy” and said she was “the one who should be under observation”. 

Why is the 25th Amendment being talked about?

The amendment was introduced after the 1963 assassination of President John F Kennedy to clarify issues around the transfer of presidential powers.

The Democrats are focusing on a clause – Section Four – allowing a president to be removed from office against their will because of physical or mental incapacity. 

The powers of the president have been temporarily transferred before – such as when Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded in 1981 and George HW Bush took over – but Section Four has never been invoked.

The amendment says it can only be used if the vice-president plus either a majority of the 15 US cabinet secretaries or another body, like Congress, agrees. Even then, the president can appeal.

It seems the Democrats – meeting later on Friday – are planning to set up the mechanisms that would enable Congress to have its say on whether the president is unable to discharge his powers.

But really, it’s being seen as a political move to stoke questions about Mr Trump’s health. There’s no sign that Vice-President Mike Pence would agree with them, and little legislative time to move the commission forward.

What’s the latest on Trump’s health?

In a memo released by the White House on Thursday evening, Dr Conley said Mr Trump was displaying no signs “to suggest progression of illness”. 

“Saturday will be day 10 since [last] Thursday’s diagnosis, and based on the trajectory of advanced diagnostics the team has been conducting, I fully anticipate the president’s safe return to public engagements at that time,” the memo added.

Earlier this week, however, Dr Conley had said that if the president’s condition remained the same or improved throughout the weekend and into Monday, “we will all take that final, deep sigh of relief”. 

Speaking on Fox News late on Thursday, Mr Trump said he was feeling “really good” and hoped to hold a campaign rally on Saturday evening, possibly in Florida. 

Mr Trump avoided questions about whether he had been tested recently, but said he would probably be tested on Friday.

The president was also heard clearing his throat and coughing during the interview. At one point, he appeared to mute his mic after needing to clear his throat.

Questions remain about when the president first became infected and whether he could still be contagious.

And although the names of many people who have interacted with the president and tested positive are now known, it remains unclear just how many were exposed at the White House. New Covid safety measures are in place there.

One of the top Republicans, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, said on Thursday that he had not been to the White House since 6 August because its approach to handling Covid with social distancing and masks was “different from mine and what I suggested we do in the Senate”.

What’s going on with the debate row?

The back-and-forth between the two campaigns over the next presidential debate began when the debate commission announced the next meet-up would have to be held virtually.

Mr Trump refused to attend it. 

Mr Biden has proposed that the town-hall debate format meant for next week should instead take place during the third debate, on 22 October.

The Trump team responded by saying a third in-person debate ought to be held five days before Election Day, on 29 October – a notion the Biden campaign rejected.

On Thursday, Mr Trump’s campaign said that the president was willing to debate Mr Biden, in-person, on 15 October as originally scheduled. 

The campaign added that Mr Trump would be medically cleared days before, meaning there would be “no medical reason” why the debate would have to be virtual.

For now, Mr Biden plans take part in his own primetime event on ABC answering questions from voters in lieu of the 15 October debate.

The US election will be held on 3 November. 

Latest opinion polls suggest that Mr Biden’s lead has increased since the chaotic first debate and the president’s coronavirus diagnosis. 

Six million ballots have already been cast in early voting.

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