President Donald Trump suggested during a campaign rally on Sunday he may fire infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci from his position on the White House coronavirus task force, and possibly from his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
During the event in Opa-Locka, Florida, a number of Trump supporters in attendance began to chant “Fire Fauci.” The president’s response elicited cheers from the crowd.
“Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Trump said. “I appreciate the advice.”
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Trump added that he viewed Fauci as a “nice guy” but claimed the infectious disease expert had “been wrong a lot” during the pandemic. Trump has made similar statements a number of times in the past, though he has usually lied or exaggerated about the extent of Fauci’s errors.
Trump’s insinuation is perhaps surprising, given that opinion polls on Fauci consistently show the public holds the infectious diseases expert in high regard and views him as a trustworthy source on the coronavirus.
The president’s comments came after The Washington Post published an interview with Fauci over the weekend, in which the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has previously tried to stay out of the political foray with Trump, was pointed in his criticism of the administration’s failed approach to the pandemic.
Fauci explained that the U.S. will be dealing with “a whole lot of hurt” in the coming weeks due to surging coronavirus infection rates. He also said that the nation “could not possibly be positioned more poorly” to deal with COVID-19 in the colder fall and winter months ahead, advising that “abrupt change” in public health procedures are needed to stem the spread of the virus.
Daily coronavirus cases exceeded 99,000 on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Dashboard, a record-high for a single day, with the previous record occurring just the day before, when over 88,000 daily cases were announced.
An increase in death rates typically follows after reports of high daily rates. More than 9.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the start of the crisis, with more than 230,000 having died from the virus so far.
The infectious diseases expert opined on the presidential election in his interview, giving praise to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for “taking [coronavirus] seriously from a public health perspective.” Trump, on the other hand, is “looking at it from a different perspective,” Fauci said.
Fauci also harshly criticized one of Trump’s most-favored members of the task force, Scott Atlas, a controversial figure who has promoted the unethical approach of “herd immunity” to the president — a strategy that would essentially allow the virus to spread uncontrolled in order to create enough antibodies among the general populace, theoretically curbing its spread sometime in the future. Such an approach would mean that hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Americans would die in the process, experts have warned. Nevertheless, Trump appears to have taken Atlas’s ideas to heart, in spite of destruction it would undoubtedly bring.
“I have real problems with that guy. He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in,” Fauci told the Post, referring to Atlas. “He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Trump and Fauci have clashed before. In April, Trump retweeted a post that included the hashtag #FireFauci. The White House also attempted to discredit Fauci in July, attempting to discredit him as a trustworthy source of information. That action failed, however, as Fauci himself noted.
“I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it’s only reflecting negatively on them,” he said in response to the failed smear campaign.