A heated exchange between members of the Trump administration and medical experts on the coronavirus task force erupted at the White House’s Situation Room on Saturday over the efficacy of a drug President Donald Trump has called a “game-changer” in the fight against coronavirus, despite the lack of research supporting its use.
The spat between differing factions remained unresolved on Sunday, as Trump interrupted a question directed to Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top immunologist expert and member of the coronavirus task force.
Noting that Fauci has been a frequent skeptic in the use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, for treating coronavirus, reporters asked him to voice his opinion once again on Sunday during a White House press briefing. Trump intervened before Fauci could reply.
“He’s answered that question 15 times,” Trump said in response.
Trump has, at various points over the past few weeks, pushed hydroxychloroquine for use in combating symptoms or possibly even treatment of COVID-19 for patients afflicted with the disease across the country. Yet not everyone agrees with the president’s assessment — Fauci included.
Fauci’s opposition to the drug led to a confrontation with Trump’s top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, the day before the press briefing where Trump interrupted him.
In a scene described through reporting from Axios, discussion of the drug was brought about in the Situation Room on Saturday, when Navarro dropped stacks of folders on the table at the meeting, saying they contained information that proved hydroxychloroquine was effective in treating coronavirus.
“The first words out of his mouth are that the studies that he’s seen, I believe they’re mostly overseas, show ‘clear therapeutic efficacy.’ Those are the exact words out of his mouth,” according to a source quoted by Axios.
Fauci disagreed, arguing that the drug needed further testing before it could be considered an effective treatment option. Navarro’s documents were anecdotal, he said, which reportedly “set Peter off,” another source told Axios.
Navarro launched into a tirade, according to those familiar with the back-and-forth, and even accused Fauci of being against the president on a number of issues, including closing travel from China — an accusation that likely confused many in the room because Fauci was, in fact, an early supporter of the president’s actions on travel restrictions.
On Monday morning, Navarro seemed to acknowledge the spat on CNN’s “New Day” program. When asked why he believed he could go toe-to-toe on medical matters with Fauci, Navarro responded, “Doctors disagree about things all the time.”
Navarro is not a medical doctor, but has a Ph.D. in economics.
Navarro, an economist who isn’t even respected in his own field, claims we should listen to his medical advice because he has a social science PhD. I have a social science PhD. If I ever tell you what medicines to take, forcibly admit me to an institution. pic.twitter.com/4Pol6Gojzq
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) April 6, 2020
“My qualifications, in terms of looking at the science, is that I’m a social scientist. I have a Ph.D.,” Navarro said in the interview. “And I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.”
Navarro’s ethics, however, have been questioned in the past, even as a scientist in his own field of study. A number of books he has authored, for instance, contained statements from a purported economist named Ron Vara — an individual, it was later revealed, that Navarro had crafted from his own imagination.
In spite of Navarro’s spirited defense of Trump promoting hydroxychloroquine without any evidence of it being an effective treatment for COVID-19, there have been unintended consequences of the president doing so. For instance, with a sizable number of Americans believing his statements, there has been documented hoarding of pills that have caused shortages across the nation, affecting the lives and comfort of many who actually need it for other reasons.
There is also the possibility of people trying to use the drug or variations of it with deadly consequences. One married couple from Arizona, for example, ingested a chemical compound containing chloroquine last month, believing Trump’s claims that it would prevent them from contracting the novel coronavirus. Both ended up hospitalized, and the husband died.
I can’t take it anymore. I’ve been to The Hague. I’m making a referral for crimes against humanity tomorrow. Today’s press conference was the last straw. I know the need for a prosecution referral when I see one. https://t.co/XQin24gqY4
— Rep. Tavia Galonski (@RepGalonski) April 6, 2020
Trump’s continued insistence that hydroxychloroquine is something Americans ought to consider has caused one state lawmaker from Ohio to suggest Trump should be charged criminally.
After hearing him again on Sunday promote the drug, Ohio state Rep. Tavia Galonski, a Democrat, tweeted out that she would be “making a referral for crimes against humanity” on Monday.