The facts behind Trump's attacks on Fauci


As the coronavirus pandemic worsens in the U.S., President Trump continues to attack the man who for months was the administration’s go-to authority on the disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dismissing Fauci’s warnings of more cases and deaths ahead unless the country takes dramatic action, Trump insists the U.S. is “rounding the turn” on COVID-19.

In an interview on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday morning, Trump claimed, falsely, that Fauci is a Democrat. He’s a “nice guy,” Trump said, “but he’s been wrong” on issues related to the pandemic, such as the importance of wearing masks.

He also said, with more justification, that Fauci, who bounced the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game earlier this year, has a “really bad arm.”

His comments came a day after he called Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, a “disaster” on a campaign call with reporters.

“[Fauci] said don’t wear masks,” Trump said Tuesday. “He said many things. He said let the people from China that are heavily infected, let them come in. And that he had mentioned he was wrong about it. He admits that I saved thousands of lives. And it’s good if people trust him, but it’s not that the people ... reporters like him because they think he’s against me.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci at a Senate hearing in September on the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Graeme Jennings/AP)
Dr. Anthony Fauci at a Senate hearing in September on the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Graeme Jennings/AP)

Trump said Tuesday that the U.S. is “rounding the turn” in the pandemic. But the numbers show that the U.S. is taking a turn for the worse. The country has exceeded 220,000 coronavirus deaths as of Oct. 20 and has more than 8 million positive cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Public health experts have said that a vaccine — which Trump had predicted could be ready before the election on Nov. 3 — isn’t expected until next year.

As Trump targets Fauci, he faces disapproval from the public on how he has handled the pandemic. According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, 59 percent of respondents say the president underestimated the risks of the virus.

Despite his displeasure with Fauci, Trump doesn’t have the power to directly fire him, experts told CNN. He’d have to go through Fauci’s superiors, and he’d need a legitimate reason to terminate him. Trump can, it seems, rail against the doctor at his rallies and on television. A fact check of Trump’s recent comments, though, found misrepresentations of Fauci’s views.

Fauci changed his position on masks

Trump often points out that Fauci did not recommend mask wearing early in the pandemic. It’s true that Fauci told “60 Minutes” in March, when the pandemic was just beginning to spread through the country, that masks were not necessary for the public at large, which was the general view of medical experts. At the time, less was known about how the virus was transmitted — there was more emphasis on washing hands and sanitizing surfaces — and the World Health Organization was discouraging widespread mask use to conserve supplies for health care workers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on April 3 to recommend face coverings, and Fauci changed his advice. Medical experts told Yahoo News in July that as more is learned about a pandemic, guidance can change.

For the last several months, Fauci has urged Americans to use masks in public, and in an interview with ABC News he explained that the earlier advice was motivated by a desire to make sure protective personal equipment would be available for doctors, nurses and first responders.

No evidence that Fauci is a Democrat

Trump has said repeatedly that Fauci is a Democrat, but the infectious diseases expert has worked under Democratic and Republican administrations and is not registered with a political party.

Fauci opposed China travel restrictions in January

Trump has claimed that Fauci was against his decision to impose travel restrictions on China. There’s some truth to Trump’s statement, according to fact-checking outlet Snopes, but Trump is incorrect in saying that Fauci completely opposed the restrictions.

In January, Fauci told S&P Global Market Intelligence that he and CDC Director Robert Redfield had told senators during a public health briefing that the restrictions were not “a good idea at this time.” The first travel restrictions targeting China took effect on Jan. 24.

“That would create a lot of disruption economically and otherwise, and it wouldn’t necessarily have a positive effect,” Fauci said at the time.

But he later supported the restrictions, telling CNBC in February — after Trump implemented his policy on Feb. 2 — that they played a role in curbing the spread of the disease in the U.S.

That same month, Fauci told reporters at a White House briefing that if officials had not restricted travel from China to the U.S., “we would have had many, many more cases right here that we would have to be dealing with.”

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP (2), Getty Images


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