[guest post by Dana]
So, in the midst of a raging pandemic, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, who has labored tirelessly to help stem the spread of Covid-19, and worked equally as hard, I’m guessing, to resist publicly mocking a president for his outlandish comments and unqualified criticisms of a medical professional who has spent decades at his post, now finds himself a target of the White House because his increasing concerns about a disease running amok is distracting Americans from the president’s re-election strategy:
Fauci’s advice has often run contrary to President Trump’s views, and the attacks on Fauci have begun to look like a traditional negative political campaign against an opponent. Yet this time, the opponent is a public health expert and career civil servant working within the administration.
Dan Scavino, deputy chief of staff for communications, shared a cartoon on his Facebook page late Sunday that depicted Fauci as a faucet flushing the U.S. economy down the drain with overzealous health guidance to slow the spread of the pandemic.
The cartoon, which shows Fauci declaring schools should remain closed and calling for “indefinite lockdowns,” did not accurately portray what Fauci has advised in public.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s testing czar offered this opinion of Fauci:
“I respect Dr. Fauci a lot, but Dr. Fauci is not 100 percent right and he also doesn’t necessarily, and he admits that, have the whole national interest in mind,” Giroir told “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “He looks at it from a very narrow public health point of view.”
Of course neither Fauci nor Giroir nor any health care professional is right 100 percent of the time. None of them walk on water, but giving Fauci the benefit of the doubt for having the nation’s best interest at heart isn’t difficult. Understanding that experts can be wrong at times should be a given. But seeing health experts change course when new data demands actually signals that they are willing to be corrected and are willing to adapt their practice as new information is provided.
As posted yesterday, infection rates are spiking in a number of states, with some governors re-introducing soft lockdowns because of increased transmission. Meanwhile, Trump, who is desperate to get the economy humming so that an economic rebound happens before November’s election, continues to downplay virus concerns. There is no question that Americans need to work. There is no question that businesses need to be up and running. There is no question that there is an increased risk of transmission when people congregate in close proximity to one other. And there is no question that there is an even greater risk of transmission when those people congregating in close proximity to one other do not observe social distancing measures, including wearing a mask. All of these things can be true at the same time. It’s not an either-or proposition. The question, for the thousandth time, is how best to balance public health and the economy. Clearly Trump’s strategy has been to downplay any risk, blame increased testing for increased numbers, suggest that the disease will just “disappear,” and as recently as last weekend, echo claims that everyone is lying:
Because government health care experts found themselves put in an awkward position by Trump’s careless retweet, Giroir was compelled to publicly deny that he or his colleagues lie to the public .
Fauci commented about his lack of communication with the president these days:
Fauci, who has not appeared at recent White House task force briefings and has been largely absent from television, told the Financial Times last week that he last saw Trump in person at the White House on June 2 and hadn’t briefed him in at least two months.
He blamed the fact that he has refused to toe the administration’s line for its refusal to approve many of his media requests.
“I have a reputation, as you probably have figured out, of speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things. And that may be one of the reasons why I haven’t been on television very much lately,” Fauci said.
Fauci’s public contradictions of Trump have been viewed by the president as a personal affront and have caused some in the West Wing to sour on the doctor, officials say. Some say that, while he is critical of the president in media interviews, he is largely deferential behind closed doors. And they complain about those outside the administration, including some in the media, who have elevated Fauci at the expense of other officials.
The White House, however, views things a bit differently:
“I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci,” Trump told reporters Monday, calling him “a very nice person.” But the president added, “I don’t always agree with him.”
That supportive message was not echoed by Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser who has been working on the coronavirus effort.
In an email, Navarro continued to criticize Fauci to The Associated Press on Monday, saying the doctor has “a good bedside manner with the public but he has been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on.” That includes, he said, downplaying the early risk of the virus and expressing skepticism over the use of hydroxychloroquine, which Navarro has aggressively championed despite contradictory evidence on its efficacy and safety.
And now, unsurprisingly, just as fast as you can say “bad public relations,” Fauci is back at the White House:
A day after President Trump’s press office tried to undermine the reputation of the nation’s top infectious disease expert with an anonymously attributed list of what it said were his misjudgments in the early days of the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci returned to the White House on Monday.
Dr. Fauci — who has not had direct contact with the president in more than five weeks even as the number of Americans with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has risen sharply in the Southwest — slipped back into the West Wing to meet with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, while his allies denounced what they called a meanspirited and misguided effort by the White House to smear him.
White House officials declined to comment on what was discussed in the conversation between Mr. Meadows, who has long expressed skepticism about the conclusions of the nation’s public health experts, and Dr. Fauci, though one official called it a good conversation and said they continued to have a positive relationship.
Note: The cartoon that Scavino shared on Facebook was drawn by none other than Ben Garrison, whose anti-Semitic cartoon got him barred from the White House in 2019.