Hot Air

Trump, Fauci starting to take (light) jabs at each other; Update: Not speaking?

These are love taps by Trump standards, scarcely worth of the term “jabs.” But it’s clear enough from the tone that there’s some tension here and there probably has been for awhile.

It’s neither surprising nor particularly interesting that POTUS would resent a deputy who’s more trusted than he is and who undermines his plans to reopen the economy every time he says something worrisome about the virus. What’s surprising and interesting is Fauci’s willingness to push back.

I wonder if there’s a strategy there.

Anyway, first here’s Trump last night on “Hannity”. Yesterday Fauci singled out Florida as a state that probably should been more mindful of the federal guidelines — Trump’s guidelines — in judging when it was safe to reopen. What do you make of that, said Hannity? The president:

“First of all, the mortality rate, and Dr. Fauci is a nice man but he’s made a lot of mistakes,” Trump said, mentioning the China travel ban, that had tens of thousands of exceptions. “But a lot of them said ‘Don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask.’ Now they are saying ‘wear a mask.’ A lot of mistakes were made, a lot of mistakes. Let me just make one statement, we do testing like nobody’s ever done testing. And when we test, the more you test, the more cases you find.”

He’s right about that. Fauci was singing a different tune about masks in early March, when the virus was quietly spreading in cities like New York. He later explained that that’s because the feds worried there wouldn’t be masks available for doctors and nurses if the public made a run on them, but who knows how much lower the scale of the spread would have been if masking of the public had begun sooner — even if it had come at the expense of medical professionals?

On the other hand, there are plenty of Americans who won’t wear masks now. How many would have instantly masked up in March if Fauci had recommended it? In any case, he’s acknowledged that the “mixed messages” about masks early on from authorities weren’t helpful.

Today he did an interview with the Financial Times and used it as an opportunity to hit back. First he offered this thought on the president having claimed recently that 99 percent of infections are “totally harmless”:

Lotta bite in that “obviously.” The FT article is paywalled, but according to Newsweek, Fauci let out “a small laugh when asked if he thought Trump was wrong for making such a statement.”

He was also asked why he hasn’t been on TV as much lately. Reply:

In an interview with the Financial Times published Friday, Fauci acknowledged that he won’t water down the truth and indicated that may be why his public appearances on behalf of the administration have decreased at a time when the president has sounded an optimistic tone about the crisis.

“I have a reputation, as you probably have figured out, of speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things. And that may be one of the reasons why I haven’t been on television very much lately,” said Fauci, who serves as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That’s a tactful way of saying “Trump’s silencing me because he’s afraid I’ll blow up his reopening effort.” Which, according to a WaPo story two weeks ago, is … sort of true. It’s not that the White House objects to him telling the truth about the danger from the virus, it seems, it’s that “television interviewers often try to goad Fauci into criticizing the president or the administration’s approach, and that Fauci is not always good about ‘staying on message’” — which, ah, may amount to the same thing. But yes, per WaPo, reportedly the White House did block several TV appearances Fauci had wanted to do for fear of him straying off-message.

I wonder if they’ll start blocking him again after they read what he said to the Financial Times.

Question: Is this just a case of Fauci venting his frustration with Trump for trying to bottle him up? Or is it part of a wider effort by the feds’ scientific team to assert itself as the White House falsely assures a nervous public that everything’s basically fine and it’s time to learn to live with 60,000 new cases per day? I ask because the Post just got its hands on an embarrassing email sent by a top HHS aide to the CDC a few weeks ago scolding the agency for “undermining the president” by issuing a report on … the risks of COVID-19 to pregnant women. It “reads in a way to frighten women,” said the advisor, “as if the President and his administration can’t fix this and it is getting worse.”

I don’t know. Maybe they should be frightened? And if they should, we should probably let them know so that they can take proper precautions.

That’s not the first time the White House has tried to suppress CDC guidance. There was an effort in early May to shelve the agency’s detailed guidelines on how to reopen businesses safely for fear that the burden of having to follow those guidelines might slow down Trump’s big reopening effort. We’re reliving that again this week, with Trump tweeting a few days ago that the CDC’s guidelines on reopening school this fall were too “tough” and that he’d be meeting with them about it. Clearly, per today’s WaPo piece, there are people inside the agency who are willing to leak when they feel that the White House is subordinating sound public health advice to Trump’s agenda of reopening everything ASAP. (One White House advisor told the Post that “There is a view the CDC is staffed with ‘deep state’ Democrats that are trying to tweak the administration.”) Now suddenly here’s Fauci also pushing back on Trump’s reopening-geared message that the virus is no big deal to 99 percent of people who contract it.

Maybe the scientists on the federal team have decided that the crisis is too alarming at this point to keep quiet while the White House pushes disinformation. It reminds me of this Pro Publica story from May about the COVID disaster in New York City back in March, when de Blasio waited and waited and waited to make a decision about whether to close schools as the virus spread. The city’s health department ended up so frustrated that it contemplated a sort of mutiny: “Several top officials developed a plan to have one of the department’s most senior leaders effectively dare the mayor to fire him by going live on television and expressing the urgent need to close schools and issue more serious restrictions immediately.” That’s more dramatic than what Fauci and the CDC leakers are up to right now, but it’s not dissimilar. They’re going to keep warning the public about the urgency of flattening the curve in hot-spot states, it seems, and let the political chips fall where they may. I wonder, in fact, how many of Fauci’s interviews this week were actually approved in advance by the White House. Are they signing off on all of these or has he gone rogue?

Update: This’ll help those terrible ratings on handling the pandemic rebound, no doubt.

With coronavirus raging, Trump and Fauci are no longer speaking. The President has taken to openly criticizing him on television. Fauci is expressing puzzlement at some of Trump’s claims.

When the coronavirus task force convened at the Department of Education this week, Fauci was told to beam in over the phone instead of attending in person…

Trump has long chafed at Fauci’s tacit rebukes and overt corrections of his misstatements.

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