April 14, 2020
In his efforts to reframe the story of how he responded—late and less than adequately—to the looming COVID-19 crisis, President Donald Trump has collided fast and hard with the truth , as told by the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.
Frustrated by Dr. Fauci’s reluctance to toe the party line, Trump reposted a Twitter message that said “Time to #FireFauci” as he rejected criticism of his slow initial response to the pandemic that has now killed more than 22,000 people in the United States. The president privately has been irritated at times with Dr. Fauci, but the Twitter post was the most explicit he has been in letting that show publicly the news outlet said.
The message that the president retweeted came from a former Republican congressional candidate whom Trump had suported. “Fauci is now saying that had Trump listened to the medical experts earlier he could’ve saved more lives,” said the tweet by DeAnna Lorraine, who got less than 2% of the vote in an open primary against Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month. “Fauci was telling people on February 29 that there was nothing to worry about and it posed no threat to the US at large. Time to #Fire Fauci.”
The Times pointed out that the tweet came amid a flurry of messages blasted out by the president on Sunday, April 12, defending his handling of the coronavirus, which has come under sharp criticism, and pointing the finger instead at China, the World Health Organization, President Barack Obama, the nation’s governors, Congress, Democrats generally and the news media.
In truth, Trump did not “ban China,” but he did block foreign nationals who had been in China in the past 14 days from coming into the United States, starting on February 2. Despite the policy, 40,000 Americans and other authorized travelers have still come into the country from China since then.
Dr. Fauci and other public health experts were initially skeptical that the China travel restrictions would be useful when the president was first considering them, but then changed their minds and told Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of Health and Human Services, on the morning of January 30 that they supported them.
The president has repeatedly pointed back to those travel limits to defend his handling of the pandemic, but experts have said the limits were useful mainly to buy time that the administration did not then use to ramp up widespread testing and impose social distancing policies before infections could begin growing exponentially.
By the third week of February, advisers had drafted a list of measures they believed would soon be necessary, like school closures, sports and concert cancellations and stay-at-home orders, but the president did not embrace them until mid-March.
“I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” he said on “State of the Union” on CNN. “Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated. But you’re right. Obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down.”
Dr. Fauci has become a celebrated figure among much of the public, which trusts him far more than Mr. Trump, according to polls. A Quinnipiac University survey last week found that 78% of Americans approved of Dr. Fauci’s handling of the crisis compared with 46% who approved of the president’s response.
Research contact: @nytimes