WH Turns on Fauci,Trump Minimizes Spike07/14 06:30
With U.S. virus cases spiking and the death toll mounting, the White House
is working to undercut its most trusted coronavirus expert, playing down the
danger as President Donald Trump pushes to get the economy moving before he
faces voters in November.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- With U.S. virus cases spiking and the death toll
mounting, the White House is working to undercut its most trusted coronavirus
expert, playing down the danger as President Donald Trump pushes to get the
economy moving before he faces voters in November.
The U.S. has become a cautionary tale across the globe, with once-falling
cases now spiraling. However, Trump suggests the severity of the pandemic that
has killed more than 135,000 Americans is being overstated by critics to damage
his reelection chances.
Trump on Monday retweeted a post by Chuck Woolery, once the host of TV's
"Love Connection," claiming that "Everyone is lying" about COVID-19. Woolery's
tweet attacked not just the media and Democrats but the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention and most doctors "that we are told to trust. I think
it's all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is
about the election."
At the same time, the president and top White House aides are ramping up
attacks against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert.
Fauci has been increasingly sidelined by the White House as he sounds alarms
about the virus, a most unwelcome message at a time when Trump is focused on
pushing an economic rebound.
"We haven't even begun to see the end of it yet," he said in a talk with the
dean of Stanford's medical school Monday, calling for a "step back" in
Last week, Fauci contradicted Trump about the severity of the virus during a
FiveThirtyEight podcast. While Trump contends repeatedly that he has done a
great job against the pandemic, Fauci said, "As a country, when you compare us
to other countries, I don't think you can say we're doing great. I mean, we're
Trump later said Fauci had "made a lot of mistakes." He pointed to Fauci's
early disagreement with him over the China travel ban and to the evolving
guidance over the use of masks as scientists' understanding of the virus
improved --- points the White House expanded on in statements to media outlets
over the weekend.
Asked whether the president still had confidence in Fauci, a White House
official on Monday insisted Trump did. The official said Fauci, the director of
the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was regarded as "a
valued voice" on the White House coronavirus task force. The official spoke on
condition of anonymity even though the president has repeatedly railed against
"I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci," Trump told reporters
Monday, calling him "a very nice person." But the president added, "I don't
always agree with him."
That supportive message was not echoed by Peter Navarro, a top White House
trade adviser who has been working on the coronavirus effort.
In an email, Navarro continued to criticize Fauci to The Associated Press on
Monday, saying the doctor has "a good bedside manner with the public but he has
been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on." That includes,
he said, downplaying the early risk of the virus and expressing skepticism over
the use of hydroxychloroquine, which Navarro has aggressively championed
despite contradictory evidence on its efficacy and safety.
Fauci, who has not appeared at recent White House task force briefings and
has been largely absent from television, told the Financial Times last week
that he last saw Trump in person at the White House on June 2 and hadn't
briefed him in at least two months.
He blamed the fact that he has refused to toe the administration's line for
its refusal to approve many of his media requests.
"I have a reputation, as you probably have figured out, of speaking the
truth at all times and not sugar-coating things. And that may be one of the
reasons why I haven't been on television very much lately," Fauci said.
Trump's political foes put it more strongly.
"The president's disgusting attempt to pass the buck by blaming the top
infectious disease expert in the country --- whose advice he repeatedly ignored
and Joe Biden consistently implored him to take --- is yet another horrible and
revealing failure of leadership as the tragic death toll continues to
needlessly grow," said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Democrat Biden's
Fauci's public contradictions of Trump have been viewed by the president as
a personal affront and have caused some in the West Wing to sour on the doctor,
officials say. Some say that, while he is critical of the president in media
interviews, he is largely deferential behind closed doors. And they complain
about those outside the administration, including some in the media, who have
elevated Fauci at the expense of other officials.
Fauci did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
That lionizing of Fauci is anything but welcome as the White House tries to
have its medical experts take a step back from the limelight to keep the
election-season focus on economic recovery rather than the persistence of the
In the early days of the virus, as Trump bristled at the attention Fauci was
receiving, the West Wing took control of the doctor's media schedule,
significantly cutting into his TV appearances though he continued to find
alternative outlets --- including podcasts and social media.
The president's team has made clear they have no intention of trying to oust
Fauci, knowing the uproar that would create. Instead, they appear content to
diminish his reach while encouraging Republican lawmakers, administration
officials and other allies to highlight some of Fauci's early missteps.
The effort is part of a White House effort to "counterpunch" on behalf of
Trump, who believes all slights must have a forceful response, said one
official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to describe
internal White House thinking.
At the same time, supporters are flocking to Fauci's defense. The
Association of American Medical Colleges' president and chief scientific
officer issued a statement saying the organization was "extremely concerned and
alarmed by efforts" to discredit Fauci.
"We cannot allow Donald Trump to silence Dr. Fauci or any other government
scientists," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who introduced legislation in April
to protect Fauci and other leaders of the National Institutes of Health from
being fired for political reasons. "Dr. Fauci is saving lives every day."