Anthony Fauci isn’t about to quit, despite the White House’s clumsy attempts to stain his public image. More so now than at any other point in their uneasy partnership, it seems that if President Donald Trump wants to be rid of Fauci, he’ll need to fire him. In recent days especially, the White House has stepped up efforts to discredit Fauci, a move he describes as “bizarre.”
“Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci told The Atlantic in a series of interviews this week. “When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president.”
He described the White House attacks against him as “nonsense” and “completely wrong.” He also seemed dismayed that they are coming at a time when COVID-19 is surging across the country, deaths are once again rising, and Americans remain deeply confused about how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
Targeting Fauci seems like a tragic misuse of White House time and energy if officials’ aim is to defeat the coronavirus. But Trump appears more concerned with discrediting Fauci. Over the weekend, the White House sent multiple news outlets a document that smacked of opposition research. It carried a list of statements Fauci had made about COVID-19, purporting to show that he had contradicted himself about the outbreak and that he “has been wrong on things.” In one example from an NBC interview in February, the White House omitted Fauci’s full quote, giving the impression that he’d misjudged the outbreak’s danger. Peter Navarro, Trump’s top trade adviser, wrote an op-ed for USA Today yesterday claiming that Fauci has been “wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.” (A Trump communications aide tried to distance the White House from the op-ed this morning.)
Peter M. Shane: Trump shouldn’t be able to fire Fauci for contradicting him
The attempt to discredit Fauci’s public-health expertise is a political move, and one with disastrous implications. As much as Trump wants and needs Americans to see the virus as a nuisance that’s soon to be overcome, Fauci is a recurring reminder that the crisis remains a grave and enduring threat, and that Trump has mishandled the pandemic. The Americans who believe the White House’s anti-science campaign risk cutting themselves off from potentially life-saving information.
“I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that,” Fauci told The Atlantic, in reference to the White House document. “I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it’s only reflecting negatively on them.
“I can’t explain Peter Navarro,” he added. “He’s in a world by himself.”
My colleague Ed Yong and I spoke with Fauci in two interviews over the past 24 hours—about the oppo against him, the private discussion he had later with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and the nation’s faltering response to the virus’s resurgence. What follows is an edited and combined transcript of our conversations.
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