After President Donald Trump sent out a tweet this past weekend that included a suggestion to fire one of the most recognizable and trusted names on his coronavirus task force, a Democratic senator hopes to pass legislation to prevent him from doing so without just cause or oversight.
Trump’s tweet included the hashtag #FireFauci, a reference to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The hashtag came from a different user and was in reference to a statement in which Fauci suggested earlier action would have prevented a number of unnecessary COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
Fauci and Trump have disagreed on a number of subjects, including on when it might be appropriate to suspend stay-in-place orders meant to prevent the spread of the disease. Trump is seemingly adamant about wanting to “reopen” the economy by May 1, while Fauci, in a recent interview, has argued that “the virus decides” when it’s right to get things back to where they were before.
Because the president’s tweet suggested Fauci should get fired, many started to worry that his termination was imminent. Trump and other members of the administration put those rumors to rest on Monday.
“This media chatter is ridiculous. President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci,” deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said.
Still, there’s reason to be skeptical of those assurances — Trump has often clashed with other members of his administration, then said he wasn’t going to fire them, only to do so shortly after. Such was the case with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom Trump said in December 2017 was not getting fired, in spite of reports that the two were not getting along.
“He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!” Trump wrote in a tweet at the time.
Three months later, Tillerson was indeed fired.
Worries over another instance like this happening led Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts to author legislation intended to limit the president’s firing power of people in positions like Fauci’s. It’s important to protect such people, Markey said in a statement, because they provide the president and the American people with truthful assessments, and they shouldn’t be terminated just for doing so.
“Trump has an allergy to both — science and the truth,” Markey explained. “Our response to the coronavirus crisis must be based on science, on data, and on the truth. We cannot allow Donald Trump to silence Dr. Fauci or any other government scientists.”
“If Donald Trump doesn’t like science-based evidence because it doesn’t support his partisan, fact-free view of the world, he cannot be permitted to silence the truth-tellers,” Markey added.
The bill would afford National Institutes of Health (NIH) directors’ jobs the same protections as similar posts in other governmental agencies where there are tighter restrictions on the president’s ability to fire people, such as the Federal Trade Commission.
In short, a president couldn’t fire a health expert like Fauci for any old reason. Just cause must be provided, per Markey’s bill.
According to the legislation, directors of the NIH could only be fired “on the basis of malfeasance by, neglect of office by, or incapacity of the director” in their role.
It’s unclear whether the bill has a chance at passage at this time in the Senate, which is controlled by a Republican Party that is generally supportive of preserving this president’s powers. At the same time, however, Fauci has tremendous approval ratings among the American public, and opposition to a bill protecting his job may be a mistake, politically speaking.