During Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing, President Donald Trump was asked about his retweets (which have since been deleted by Twitter) charging that Dr. Anthony Fauci misled the country about hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug Trump has repeatedly promoted as an effective treatment for coronavirus.
Trump dismissed any notion of friction between himself and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, saying he has “a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci” and that he agrees “with a lot of what he’s said.”
Trump then suggested that his administration has largely followed Fauci’s recommendations on fighting the pandemic. “And, for the most part, we’ve done pretty much what he and others — Dr. (Deborah) Birx and others, who are terrific — recommended.”
Facts First: This is misleading. While Fauci made comments early on in the pandemic stating that masks were not necessary, he quickly changed course as more information became known about how the virus spreads, endorsing masks and social distancing. The President and his allies, however, have taken a different approach.
While the White House, through the coronavirus taskforce, publicly endorsed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines about masks and social distancing, neither the President, the vice president, nor many White House aides and allies adhered closely to those guidelines for much of the spring. As Fauci was cautioning states about reopening too soon, Trump was sending the opposite message, urging states to reopen and “liberate” themselves.
Additionally, the White House appeared to try to discredit Fauci earlier this month by providing members of the media opposition-style research on him, highlighting remarks he made in the first months of the pandemic.
The move was an extraordinary White House attack on a high-ranking health official in the midst of a pandemic; also, the list itself was misleading.
The White House removed critical context from Fauci’s remarks, making him seem rosier about the pandemic than he actually was. It also failed to mention that Trump himself made comments similar to Fauci’s, or far more optimistic than Fauci’s, long after Fauci’s words had become sharply less optimistic.
Afterward, the White House insisted it was not trying to discredit Fauci.
“There’s no opposition research being dumped to reporters,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on July 13. McEnany insisted later that Trump and Fauci have “always had a very good working relationship.”
Before coronavirus infections started to spike in the US, many health experts, including Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, insisted masks were not necessary.
However, as early as April, Fauci began stressing the importance of wearing some sort of face covering and maintaining social distance. The same month, the CDC shifted its stance on masks and face coverings after more information was discovered about how Covid-19 spread.
For months after this, Trump refused to acknowledge the importance of wearing face coverings and mocked his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, for wearing one as masks became a political and cultural flashpoint throughout the country. The President wore a mask in public for the first time earlier this month at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but didn’t give a solid endorsement of masks until just over a week ago.
On states reopening
In April, the White House Coronavirus Task Force released guidelines for states to use as they reopened. Fauci stressed the importance of local governments adhering to this plan, cautioned against reopening too soon and explained that the guidelines provide states “a continuity that is safe, that is prudent and that is careful.”
“The concern that I have is that there are some states, some cities, or what have you, who are looking at that and kind of leapfrogging over the first checkpoint,” he said during a 24newsreads.com town hall in late April. “And I mean obviously you could get away with that, but you are making a really significant risk.”
“My concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Fauci told the Senate HELP Committee on May 12, during a hearing on how to safely reopen the nation. “The consequences could be really serious.”
In early April, Trump began making an aggressive push to reopen the states, at one point insisting that it was his decision, not the governors’. Behind closed doors, Trump expressed support for Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen the state despite not meeting the White House guidelines, only to publicly admonish the governor later after pushback from members of the White House task force, including Fauci.
On sending children back to school
Trump and the administration continue to fight for schools to reopen this fall, highlighting data that shows the importance of in-person learning and citing studies showing that many children need the services outside of academics provided by schools.
At the same time, Fauci has warned that states with resurging coronavirus cases “should seriously look at shutting down.” Fauci later noted that states with spiking coronavirus cases still can contain them by pausing their reopening processes, rather than shutting down a second time.
In an interview earlier this month, Trump disagreed with Fauci’s assessment that the country was still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.
The next day, the President attacked the CDC’s guidelines on schools, calling them “very tough” and “expensive” and saying he disagreed with them.
“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things,” Trump wrote. “I will be meeting with them!!!”