President Trump pressed his attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday, after his campaign declined to take down an ad quoting the country’s leading infectious disease expert that Fauci himself said was misleading.
In the campaign ad released last week, Fauci is quoted as saying, “I can’t imagine ... that anybody could be doing more,” with the context of the ad making it seem as if he was praising Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued a statement asking for the ad to be taken down. “The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials” — not about Trump, specifically, he said.
“In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” Fauci emphasized.
The Trump campaign has refused to remove the ad, and the president pushed back further on Tuesday morning.
“Actually, Tony’s pitching arm is far more accurate than his prognostications,” Trump tweeted, referencing Fauci’s wildly inaccurate first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ season opener in July, adding, “‘No problem, no masks’. WHO no longer likes Lockdowns - just came out against. Trump was right. We saved 2,000,000 USA lives!!!”
Fauci, along with many other public health experts, did not initially recommend universal mask use due to concerns about the supply for frontline workers, and before researchers recognized the prevalence of asymptomatic transmission.
“I don’t regret anything I said then because in the context of the time in which I said it, it was correct. We were told in our task force meetings that we have a serious problem with the lack of PPEs and masks for the health providers who are putting themselves in harm’s way every day to take care of sick people,” Fauci said in July, adding, “When it became clear that the infection could be spread by asymptomatic carriers who don’t know they’re infected, that made it very clear that we had to strongly recommend masks. And also, it soon became clear that we had enough protective equipment and that cloth masks and homemade masks were as good as masks that you would buy from surgical supply stores. So in the context of when we were not strongly recommending it, it was the correct thing. But our knowledge changed and our realization of the state of the outbreak changed.”
Fauci told the Daily Beast of the ad, “By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me. Since campaign ads are about getting votes, their harassment of me might have the opposite effect of turning some voters off."
The quote used in the ad is taken from a March interview with Fox News. The full context makes it clear Fauci is talking about the national response.
“I, as one of many people on a team, I’m not the only person, since the beginning when we even recognized what this was, I have been devoting almost full-time on this. I’m down at the White House virtually every day with the task force,” Fauci said at the time. “I’m connected by phone throughout the day and into the night, and I’m talking 12, 1, 2 in the morning. I’m not the only one. There’s a whole group of us that are doing that, it’s every single day.
“So I can’t imagine that under any circumstances that anybody could be doing more,” Fauci concluded.
The Trump administration has been criticized for its response to the virus, which has killed more than 215,000 Americans. Trump consistently downplayed the virus in public despite private comments about its dangers while failing to ramp up testing because he believed more tests meant more positive cases, which made him look bad. Trump has resumed holding rallies despite cases beginning to rise and the fact that he himself was just released from the hospital following a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“I think it’s really unfortunate and really disappointing that they did that. It’s so clear that I’m not a political person, and I have never ― either directly or indirectly ― endorsed a political candidate,” Fauci told CNN on Monday. “And to take a completely out-of-context statement and put it in what is obviously a political campaign ad, I thought was really very disappointing.”
Fauci will be joining Yahoo News on Thursday at 8 a.m. ET for a live interview. Tune in here.
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