Despite the outcry from some Trump supporters to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s job appears safe — at the moment.
Fauci stirred up a hornet’s nest during a CNN interview on Saturday when he suggested that if Trump had acted sooner, people’s lives could have been saved. He mentioned “pushback” against “mitigation measures” that appeared to blame the president for resisting recommendations from the task force to slow the spread of the virus.
The resulting firestorm included some ominous indirect criticism when Trump retweeted a #FireFacui posting.
An op-ed appeared in the conservative Washington Examiner by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who wrote that Fauci “can no longer be one of the primary voices in this crisis, especially not after his assertion that the economic effects and devastation from this shutdown are merely inconvenient.”
But yesterday during the daily White House briefing, after being invited by Trump to step forward, Fauci walked back those comments, temporarily saving his job. He said he was answering a “hypothetical question” and was “misinterpreted” by CNN.
At a White House news conference, Fauci, a health-policy adviser to Trump, said he wanted to clear up an answer to a “hypothetical question,” in which he said earlier coronavirus mitigation efforts would have saved more lives.
“That was taken as a way that maybe somehow, something was at fault,” he said. Fauci added that Trump approved social distancing the first time he recommended it. He said his statement that there was “pushback” to early recommendations was a “poor choice of words.”
Fauci has already been on thin ice with Trump because he’s getting so much attention. He’s widely trusted by the American people, according to polls, and is usually very good at correcting the media narrative that looks to blame Trump for everything.
But he’s not a politician, he’s a scientist. And the conflict in the White House between scientists and politicians has been evident from the start of the crisis. The scientists don’t care about anything but beating the virus. To that end, they’re willing to destroy the U.S. economy to save lives. The politicians care about lives, but have an entirely different responsibility to balance the interests of the economy with the interest in preserving life. There was bound to be friction along the way.
The congressmen who wrote the op-ed about Fauci’s “tone-deaf” approach to shutting down the economy and interfering with people’s lives are right. But it’s not Fauci’s job to worry about that and he should have kept his mouth shut.
Trump may not like it, but Fauci is trusted more than the president on information about the coronavirus. He’s not going to replace Fauci as the most trusted figure in the administration by firing him. If Trump gives in to his baser instincts and fires Fauci, he will be rightly criticized by both parties and all sides.
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