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Mo’ Joe: White House eager to show Biden out and about after COVID-19 case

President Joe Biden delivered a triumphant speech Wednesday morning after testing negative twice for COVID-19, ending a period of isolation in which he was presented as working constantly to fulfill the duties of his office.

The next step will be to get the 79-year-old Biden, who canceled travel to Pennsylvania and Florida after his diagnosis, back out on the road.

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The White House announced the president’s positive case last Thursday, and less than a week later, he was back to working in nearly normal conditions as the Biden administration sought to project an image of strength and competence from the commander in chief.

“My symptoms were mild, my recovery was quick, and I’m feeling great,” he said. “The entire time I was in isolation, I was able to work. … It’s a real statement about where we are in the fight against COVID-19.”

President Joe Biden waves after speaking in the Rose Garden.

Susan Walsh/AP

Biden worked throughout his isolation period, appearing unmasked on the Truman Balcony in a video filmed the same day as his positive test. Subsequent tweets and virtual appearances were intended to show the president working in his office, wearing a suit, while notes from presidential physician Kevin O’Connor reiterated that his symptoms were “mild” and vitals “normal.”

The face-forward approach drew praise across the aisle, with Republican strategist Ron Nehring backing the administration’s response.

“Overall, the White House handled this particular situation fairly well,” he said. “It speaks to the value of being vaccinated and boosted, obviously. The fact that so many people have been vaccinated means that although the number of cases right now are high, the number of deaths is comparatively low.”

The White House did a much better job of handling Biden’s infection and the messaging around it than they have issues such as the border, inflation, and energy, Nehring added. Polling backs up his point, with Biden’s handling of the virus being the only major issue on which his approval rating outstrips his overall disapproval numbers.

The administration has even taken some heat from the Left over the situation, with questions about whether Biden’s work schedule sends the wrong message to those who might want to take a sick day after testing positive, whether he should spend less time mingling in public, or if working stringently could lead to long COVID-19. But such concerns are outweighed by wider geopolitical considerations, Nehring argues.

“Let’s remember that we have our No. 1 geopolitical adversary, Russia, engaged in armed conflict in Ukraine right now,” he said. “Now is not the time to project and have the American president bedridden and off the playing field.”

This comes in sharp contrast to the “basement Biden” and “hidin’ Biden” criticisms that came during the 2020 campaign, when, as the Democratic nominee, he kept a light public schedule amid the pandemic.

It helped that Biden appeared to have a mild case, looking to be near full strength during his virtual appearances.

Biden even felt strong enough to take a shot at his predecessor during Wednesday’s speech in a sunny Rose Garden, noting that Donald Trump had to be transferred to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center when he contracted COVID-19 in 2020, whereas Biden continued working from the upper floor of the White House.

The president also held himself up as a model to follow, calling on the public to take booster shots, tests, and treatments to get through the virus.

“You can live without fear by doing what I did,” he said. “Get boosted, get tested, get treatment.”

Polling has found that most people appear to be moving on mentally from the virus, with just 1% of respondents in a Monmouth University poll identifying the coronavirus as the most important problem facing their family today, much lower than such economic issues as inflation (33%) and gas prices (15%).

University of California, Irvine public health professor Andrew Noymer praised Biden’s expected return to a fuller public schedule.

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“He had a very mild case, and he received Paxlovid, which absolutely works,” he said. “I wish more Americans would take that when they’re sick with COVID. And I’m glad to see anyone, whether it’s my next-door neighbor or the president, recover from COVID.”

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