President Donald Trump spent much of this Easter weekend, his first Easter sequestered at the White House in the midst of a global pandemic and crashing economy, in a rather predictable fashion: working the phones and rage-tweeting at The New York Times and Mike Wallace’s son.
At one point, the president even promoted a Twitter post calling for the firing of his top infectious-disease expert in the middle of a deadly pandemic—because he’d said something construed as rude to Trump.
Over the weekend, the president picked up the phone and began dialing various close advisers and associates to ask them their opinion on how soon he should “open” the U.S. economy and call for Americans to start resuming business as usual, according to three people familiar with the conversations.
The subject of when to ease restrictions and guidelines, as the death toll has risen in the tens of thousands and governors and the federal government have struggled to combat the coronavirus, has been a major point of debate within the upper ranks of the Trump administration. While the president has often advocated highly optimistic and at times even negligent positions on the crisis, certain key members of his coronavirus task force—including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—have urged a more cautious, patient approach, particularly on “reopening” the United States for business.
And so the doctor appeared to weigh on Trump’s mind this Easter weekend.
“What do you think of Fauci?” the president repeatedly worked into his phone conversations over the past few days, the three sources said, as he pulsed his broader network of informal advisers, industry allies, and current staff on their opinions on the news of the day. At one point this weekend, Trump remarked that he’s made Fauci a “star” and that barely anybody would have known who the doctor was were it not for the president putting him front and center in the administration’s coronavirus response, televised press briefings, and media strategy.
“He did not sound bitter about it, I wouldn’t say that,” one of the people familiar with the comments said. “It just sounded like he thought it was worth a reminder.”
On Sunday morning, Fauci appeared on CNN host Jake Tapper’s show and seemed to confirm aspects of a Saturday New York Times story (one that had apparently upset the president) that he and other officials had advocated imposing restrictions and social-distancing guidelines in February, but the Trump administration did not act on their advice until nearly a month later.
“We make a recommendation. Often the recommendation is taken. Sometimes it’s not. But it is what it is. We are where we are right now,” Fauci told the State of the Union anchor. When asked by Tapper whether lives could have been saved if Trump and other top officials had taken and announced those recommendations in February, the doctor responded, “It’s very difficult to go back and say that. I mean, obviously you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously no one is going to deny that.”
Fauci’s comments did not go over well with certain officials working in the White House or on the president’s campaign, according to multiple aides, or with Trump supporters who are publicly protective of the president and his image. “Dr. Fauci needs to be more careful choosing his words on #Coronavirus, & if he’s going to be critical, make clear what he personally could’ve done better,” Jason Miller, a former senior Trump adviser, posted to Twitter on Sunday.
By Sunday afternoon, prominent Trump allies and surrogates were circulating links and documents showing how Fauci had been inconsistent or made faulty predictions about the virus in recent months, encouraging each other to share them or use them as talking points, according to screenshots shared with The Daily Beast.
And by Sunday evening, the president had already quote-tweeted a post calling on him to “#FireFauci” over the CNN interview.
Trump also spent a good chunk of Easter Sunday airing various other grievances on Twitter, his preferred social-media venue. Few of the posts were holiday-related. “The Opposition Party (Lamestream Media) and their partner, the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, have put their political game plan in full swing. ‘Whether he is right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. Criticize ‘Trump’ for everything, and don’t let the public see Biden. Hide him,’” Trump tweeted Sunday.
For Easter, the president had said he would be livestreaming a morning event hosted by Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, a Fox News contributor and a key Trump ally on the religious right. Trump’s recent decision to worship remotely online with Jeffress’ church came as a surprise, even to the pastor. “I didn’t know he was going to be tuning in until [Friday] when I was watching the briefing and heard him say it,” Jeffress told The Daily Beast.
But Sunday night, Trump was back to scouring Twitter, retweeting posts about his perceived enemies in the FBI and denouncing the “Fake News!” at CBS. The holiday weekend came and went without the president engaging in one of his favorite new messaging tactics: the routine White House press briefing by Trump and the coronavirus task force.
“Because the T.V. Ratings for the White House News Conference’s are the highest, the Opposition Party (Lamestream Media), the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats &, of course, the few remaining RINO’S, are doing everything in their power to disparage & end them. The People’s Voice!” Trump tweeted Friday.
He would again reference how “wonderful” his press briefings have been on Saturday of the Easter weekend.