Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s touchstones for scientific wisdom amid the spread of COVID-19, was absent from the White House’s daily briefing for the second day in a row on Monday, prompting many to wonder where the nation’s top infectious disease expert was as the nation reels from the rising pandemic.
President Donald Trump spoke about the administration’s efforts to rein in the outbreak and provide personal protective equipment to some hospitals already straining under an influx of sick patients. But while the president repeated platitudes about the country soon being “stronger than ever before,” there was limited medical advice given.
Fauci, who serves as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has for many become a beacon of truth and straight talk as coronavirus continues to spread around the country, often walking back unfounded claims made by the president (the timeline of a coronavirus vaccine, for example, or the growth rate of infections).
But Fauci’s microphone has also reportedly drawn the president’s ire. The New York Times reported Monday that Trump has become frustrated with Fauci’s blunt manner and his contradicting of White House statements.
The National Institutes of Health said Monday that Fauci was still a regular part of the White House briefing schedule.
“He has been at the White House today, in fact,” a spokesperson for the NIH told HuffPost. “They are doing a rotating cast for the briefings.”
When asked about reports that Trump had become frustrated with Fauci’s no-nonsense approach to his warnings about the threat of coronavirus, the NIH directed questions to the White House.
The Trump administration did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Fauci’s appearances.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, spoke about the infection rates in states around the country, saying each state would have its own disease curve to deal with. But she declined to answer repeated questions on if she agreed with Trump’s assessments that the country could soon go back to business as usual or about what kind of timeline for a return to normality that Americans should expect.
“What the president has asked us to do is assemble all the data and give us our best medical recommendation,” she said. “We’re pulling all of the data pieces right now. I will never speculate on data. I will have to see that data.”
Fauci gave an in-depth interview to Science this weekend and addressed how he had managed to remain at the White House when many, many others who have stood in Trump’s path have been fired for disagreements.
“Even though we disagree on some things, he listens,” Fauci told the scientific journal. “He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
Trump did say Monday that he had “learned a lot” from Fauci and Birx.
“I can say I’m a student, you’re a student, we’re all in this together,” Trump said. “I’ve learned a lot from Deborah, I’ve learned a lot from Tony, from a lot of people.”
When pressed about where Fauci was on Monday, the president pledged he would be “back up very soon.”
“I was just with him for a long time,” Trump said. “He understand this is a tremendous test to our country. It was nobody’s fault; it just happened. This horrible virus came from nowhere. He fully understands that.”
“He’s a good man” the president continued. “I like Dr. Fauci a lot.”
Trump said repeatedly he was hoping to “open up” the country and its foundering economy “a lot sooner” than people were expecting. The Washington Post reported Monday that the White House was weighing calls from GOP lawmakers and advisers to scale back social distancing steps in order to kickstart the financial markets despite warnings from public health officials.
When asked what public health officials thought of the plan, including Fauci, Trump said they didn’t disagree with him, but he also alluded that measures called for by the medical community were at odds with what he considers best for the economy.
“If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s shut down the entire world,” Trump said, noting earlier: “I’m not looking at months. We’re going to be opening up our country. … You can’t keep it closed for years. OK? This is going away. We’re going to win the battle.”