WASHINGTON (CN) — Reacting to criticism that preventable delays set back America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump has put crosshairs on the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“Time to #FireFauci,” the president endorsed Sunday night, retweeting the message of failed congressional candidate DeAnna Lorraine.
Among the most respected officials on the administration’s Covid-19 task force, Fauci has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. For weeks, he has treaded a thin line in offering pragmatic insight on the deadly virus while undercutting the president’s enthusiasm to reopen the economy.
Though Trump maintains that he was among the first to recognize the potential devastation the country could see from the novel coronavirus, The New York Times published a bombshell report Saturday that said the administration waited nearly three weeks to accept advice Fauci and other public health officials had delivered on Feb. 14 that the president should recommend social-distancing practices to Americans.
Fauci confirmed the Times’ report Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying the earlier implementation of social distancing “obviously” would have saved more lives.
“We look at it from a pure health standpoint,” Fauci said. "We make a recommendation. Often, the recommendation is taken. Sometimes, it's not. … But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then."
Trump pushed back shortly thereafter via Twitter, proclaiming that the Times story “is a Fake, just like the ‘paper’ itself.”
“I was criticized for moving too fast when I issued the China Ban, long before most others wanted to do so,” Trump tweeted.
In the other post — retweeting a message from the former candidate who lost her challenge against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in March — Trump wrote: “Sorry Fake News, it’s all on tape. I banned China long before people spoke up,” Trump tweeted.
Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement Monday that Trump had no intention of firing Fauci.
“Dr. Fauci has been and remains a trusted advisor to President Trump,” said Gidley, calling the recent Twitter posts more reflective of Trump’s frustration with national news outlets that he said had intentionally misrepresented the timing of the international travel ban.
“It was Democrats and the media who ignored coronavirus choosing to focus on impeachment instead, and when they finally did comment on the virus it was to attack President Trump for taking the bold decisive action to save American lives by cutting off travel from China and Europe,” Gidley said.
Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale University professor of diagnostic radiology, said Fauci has been the only member of public health leadership who has uniformly told the truth and has been willing to tell the American public difficult truths.
“In a traditional administration, one could argue to relieve someone from office if they are not consistent in messaging and coordinated with the president. But it is an impossibility to comply, since the president’s statements have varied by the minute,” Forman said. “I think the country owes him a great debt. He is a national hero.”
Fauci on Sunday also gave an interview to the Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC, saying experts had been concerned about the virus’s potential to become a pandemic since late January, after learning about its person-to-person transmission.
Fauci said after there were cases “under the radar screen,” transmitting undetected in communities, “then it became clear that we were in real trouble.”
By Monday morning, the hashtag #FireFauci was trending on Twitter, with more than 74,000 messages on the site about the subject. Lorraine, continuing her virtual attacks in multiple tweets Monday, said Fauci thought he “gets to run this country” and questioned why the infectious disease expert had so many appearances on talk shows hosted by CNN and MSNBC.
“If it walks and talks like a Democrat operative, chances are it is a Democrat operative,” tweeted Lorraine, who also attacked Fauci for an email he sent in support of Hillary Clinton’s testimony during investigations into the Benghazi attacks.
Fauci wrote Clinton “hit it right out of the park.”
Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., meanwhile tweeted Monday that Trump should not silence Fauci’s “vital voice.”
“I have known Anthony Fauci for years and would trust my family’s health with him any day of the week,” Wyden tweeted. “The American people need to know the facts.”
Among some of Trump and Fauci’s more public disagreements on the federal response to the virus, Trump said in late March he would like to see the country return to normal by Easter.
Fauci threw cold water on the idea, saying Trump “was making an aspiration projection to give people some hope.”
“You’ve got to understand that you don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Fauci said at the time.
America has lost 21,500 people to the respiratory disease Covid-19 as of Monday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.
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