WHITE HOUSE TAKES JABS AT FAUCI AS TRUMP MINIMIZES VIRUS SPIKE
WASHINGTON — With U.S. virus cases spiking and the death toll mounting, the White House is working to undercut its most trusted coronavirus expert, playing down the danger as President Donald Trump pushes to get the economy moving before he faces voters in November.
The U.S. has become a cautionary tale across the globe, with once-falling cases now spiraling. However, Trump suggests the severity of the pandemic that has killed more than 135,000 Americans is being overstated by critics to damage his reelection chances.
Trump on Monday retweeted a post by Chuck Woolery, once the host of TV’s “Love Connection,” claiming that “Everyone is lying” about COVID-19 — not just the media and Democrats but most doctors “that we are told to trust. I think it’s all about the election and keeping the economy from coming back, which is about the election,” Trump quoted the former game-show host.
At the same time, the president and top White House aides are ramping up attacks against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert. Fauci has been increasingly sidelined by the White House as he sounds alarms about the virus.
“I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci,” Trump told reporters Monday, calling him “a very nice person.” But the president added: “I don’t always agree with him.”
Last week, Fauci contradicted Trump about the severity of the virus during a FiveThirtyEight podcast. While Trump contends repeatedly that he has done a great job against the pandemic, Fauci said, “As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not.”
Trump later said Fauci had “made a lot of mistakes.” He pointed to Fauci’s early disagreement with him over the China travel ban and to the evolving guidance over the use of masks as scientists’ understanding of the virus improved — points the White House expanded on in statements to media outlets over the weekend.
Asked whether the president still had confidence in Fauci, a White House official on Monday insisted Trump did. He said that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was regarded as “a valued voice” on the White House coronavirus task force. The official spoke on condition of anonymity even though the president has repeatedly railed against anonymous sources.
But that supportive message was not echoed by Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser who has been working on the coronavirus effort.
In an email, Navarro continued to criticize Fauci to The Associated Press on Monday, saying the doctor has “a good bedside manner with the public but he has been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on.” That includes, he said, downplaying the early risk of the virus and expressing skepticism over the use of hydroxychloroquine, which Navarro has aggressively championed despite contradictory evidence on its efficacy and safety.
Fauci’s public contradictions of Trump have been viewed by the president as a personal affront and have caused some in the West Wing to sour on the doctor, officials say. However, one senior White House aide insisted frustration with him was directed more at outsiders, including some in the media “who elevate Fauci” and fault the White House for not showing more deference.
President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks about the coronavirus on April 22.