WASHINGTON — With a “frustrated” President Donald Trump growing restless after weeks of nationwide shutdowns, his top aides and campaign officials are exploring ways to start venturing outside of Washington for events in the coming weeks.
Though national guidelines still advise Americans against taking nonessential trips and health experts warn against easing social distancing practices too soon, senior advisers are actively considering plans for the president to visit health care workers, first responders and Americans whose jobs have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
The timing of any travel remains unclear but the White House sees the week of May 4 as a target for the president to start leaving Washington “in a safe and responsible way,” modeling day trips after those of Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to both Colorado and Wisconsin this week.
While Pence’s footprint is much smaller than that of the president’s, aides acknowledge that next month will be a good time to experiment with a few quick presidential excursions. Trump is already scheduled to speak at the U.S. Military Academy’s graduation in West Point, New York, in mid-June.
Beyond that, officials said, any travel outside Washington would have to straddle dual goals: a clear reason for using big resources like Air Force One while conveying to the public that they still need to take the coronavirus seriously.
“Like many Americans, the president is looking to travel when it is safe to do so,” one senior administration official said.
While Trump is eager to hit the campaign trail again, there are no current “Keep America Great” rallies on the schedule, but senior officials involved with the re-election effort are evaluating how best to organize potential gatherings. The campaign is closely watching states that are already moving toward reopening and could be eventual destinations for those future events.
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Despite uncertainty around the continuing public health crisis, the campaign has pledged to hold rallies again before the general election in November.
“The coronavirus will pass and the president is looking forward to getting back out on the campaign trail and holding rallies. We will get back to those rallies. Never fear, the president is certain that we're going to be back out there speaking directly to the American people,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News in a statement.
It’s unknown when that might happen, given the social distancing guidelines and most states warning that mass gatherings are still many weeks away, if not longer.
Earlier this week, the president claimed he hadn’t left the White House in “months.” In reality, his last campaign rally was March 2 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and he traveled to Florida the weekend of March 6 for multiple fundraisers before returning to Washington a few days later.
Since then, apart from a four-hour trip to see the USNS Comfort off in Norfolk, Virginia, the president has been cooped up at the White House, asking aides when he might be able to campaign again.
“He’s certainly frustrated that he’s stuck and wants to get things back to normal,” a former official said.
The president himself said he hopes to be back at rallies soon and predicted “they’re going to be bigger than ever” during a recent coronavirus briefing, just days after saying his sole goal was to make “the country better” and arguing he didn’t “care about campaigning.”
On Friday, Trump said rallies are “an important part of politics” and implied he wasn’t a fan of spaced-out seating requirements, like the ones currently established in the White House briefing room as a health precaution.
“It loses a lot of flavor” when people are sitting with empty seats between them, the president said.