Donald Trump will not fire his infectious disease guru, Anthony Fauci, despite the president retweeting a tweet on Sunday with the line, “Time to #FireFauci,” a White House spokesman said.
Mr Fauci, the White House coronavirus task force’s top public health expert, said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that the US “could have saved lives” with earlier adoption of social distancing measures. Mr Fauci’s comments led to backlash among conservative leaders and pundits who demanded more loyalty from someone who is working directly with the president on the administration’s coronavirus response.
“This media chatter is ridiculous — President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement, despite the fact the president’s retweet of “#FireFauci” was the source of most of the media speculation.
“Dr. Fauci has been and remains a trusted advisor to President Trump,” Mr Gidley added.
While Mr Fauci did admit in recent comments to CNN that lives could have been saved with earlier action in the US, he added that the situation with the burgeoning health crisis in January, February, and even March was more complicated than that.
“I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously. No one is going to deny that,” Mr Fauci said.
“But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated,” added, cautioning against coming down too harshly on government officials for how they responded to a complicated pandemic on which scientists had very little reliable data while they weighed other risks to shutting down the economy.
“But you’re right. I mean obviously if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then,” Mr Fauci said.
Mr Trump spent at least a portion of his Easter Sunday on Twitter defending his administration’s response to the health crisis, touting his polling numbers among Republicans voters, and retweeting a picture of him saluting a Marine as he steps off the presidential helicopter, Marine One.
Among Mr Trump’s tweets was a retweet of a message from a former California Republican congressional candidate criticising Mr Fauci.
“Fauci is now saying that had Trump listened to the medical experts earlier he could’ve saved more lives. Fauci was telling people on February 29th that there was nothing to worry about and it posed no threat to the US public at large. Time to #FireFauci,” DeAnna Lorraine, a Republican who previously challenged Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wrote in the original tweet.
Mr Fauci did not, however, specifically say Mr Trump should have listened to his health experts. He said the situation was “complicated” and alluded to the fact the president was receiving multiple lines of advice from economic advisers, health advisers, and others.
Still, Mr Trump retweeted Ms Lorraine, adding a message of his own touting his restrictions on travel to the US from China and giving a shout-out to Trump-friendly conservative news platform One America News Network.
“Sorry Fake News, it’s all on tape. I banned China long before people spoke up. Thank you @OANN,” Mr Trump wrote.
While Mr Trump’s top health advisers, including Mr Fauci, have been reticent about directly criticising his response to the crisis, the president has received intense scrutiny in recent days after reports surfaced that they began warning him as early as February to begin advocating for social distancing and work-from-home guidelines for many sectors of the economy.
Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield has said he recommended some states adopt more stringent quarantine measures as early as February, three weeks before the White House issued its social distancing guidelines.
Despite public speculation over discord between Mr Trump and Mr Fauci due to their often divergent messaging about coronavirus, the president has called his health guru “extraordinary” and said the two “get along very well.”
Mr Trump and Mr Fauci have notably differed in their opinions of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, with the president pushing for its widespread use to combat Covid-19 and Mr Fauci saying the drug is unproven in that regard.