The White House has undertaken behind-the-scenes efforts in recent months to undercut and sideline Dr. Anthony Fauci—even going so far as to compile a list of all the times he “has been wrong on things,” according to The Washington Post.
After canceling some of his planned TV appearances and keeping him away from the Oval Office, White House officials and President Donald Trump have taken to publicly expressing a loss of confidence in the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and face of the administration's coronavirus task force. The apparent attempts to undermine Fauci come as he continues to counter the president's overly optimistic narrative on the state of the pandemic.
Against this backdrop, an unnamed White House official told the Post, “Several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” The official attached a list of incorrect predictions Fauci had made, including his doubts early on that asymptomatic spread would play a large role in transmission and a February assurance that Americans did not need to change their behavior. Like many other public health officials, Fauci said at first that masks were not necessary but recently recommended that they be mandated nationwide.
“Dr. Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public but he has been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on,” Peter Navarro, the president’s trade adviser, told the Post in a separate statement. “Now Fauci is saying that a falling mortality rate doesn’t matter when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening. So when you ask me if I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is only with caution.”
In recent days, the 79-year-old doctor has offered unsparing assessments of the United States’ current situation. In an interview with 538 published Thursday, he was perhaps at his most blunt: “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 just not.” The same day, the commander-in-chief told Fox News host Sean Hannity in an interview that Fauci was “a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” The two haven’t spoken in months, but Fauci has reportedly not complained about that. David Barr, an AIDS activist who knows Fauci, told the Post the doctor has become exasperated that state and local officials aren’t listening to experts.
“Our bigger issue with Fauci is stop critiquing the task force... and try to fix it,” another White House official told the Post. The official said Fauci’s high approval and trustworthiness ratings have upset the president as his own deteriorate.
The White House has also reportedly sought to keep Fauci out of the the public eye. A CBS anchor said last week that the White House has ignored requests to interview Fauci on air since early April, though he has spoken to print and podcast outlets. The White House maintains the authority to approve or deny interview requests for high-profile public officials and granted requests from PBS, CNN, and NBC to speak with the doctor only to cancel them after Fauci disagreed with Trump in a conversation with Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), according to the Post. The epidemiologist said that Trump’s contention that a lower death rate indicated success in tamping down the virus was “a false narrative.” He warned against “false complacency.” Fauci has also said he’d like to go on Rachel Maddow’s show, which routinely critiques the president, a request that was rejected.
Trump himself has been wrong on the coronavirus in a laundry list of ways as he’s pushed to reopen the country, and going after Fauci is not the only time he has attempted to contravene public health guidelines. He famously told Dr. Deborah Birx, the chief medical adviser on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, to “look into” the injection of bleach and the ingestion of sunlight as possible COVID-19 curatives. He’s also pressured the Food and Drug Administration to reinstate its emergency authorization for the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, as has his former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who said doctors “don’t know what they’re talking about.” Trump himself has said he took the drug despite FDA advisories warning it is unsafe to do so and unlikely to prevent or treat the coronavirus.
The president donned a face mask for a Saturday visit to Walter Reed Hospital, after repeatedly shrugging off their importance in recent weeks and even mocking Joe Biden for wearing one.