Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. | Alex Edelman/Pool via AP
President Donald Trump attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday after the nation’s top infectious disease expert criticized the president’s reelection campaign for featuring him in a political advertisement.
In a tweet Tuesday morning, Trump wrote that “Tony’s pitching arm is far more accurate than his prognostications,” referring to Fauci’s bungled first pitch on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day in July.
“‘No problem, no masks’. WHO no longer likes Lockdowns - just came out against,” the president added. “Trump was right. We saved 2,000,000 USA lives!!!”
While it is true that administration officials did not endorse mask-wearing in the initial stage of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, the CDC began recommending the use of cloth masks when outside the home by early April.
Fauci acknowledged in June that the administration was slow to encourage the mitigation measure because of concerns among the public health community regarding a shortage of personal protective equipment in the U.S.
Trump’s mention of the World Health Organization appears to refer to a statement made last week by a Covid-19 special envoy for the United Nations agency, who urged countries against using lockdowns as the “primary means of control of this virus.”
The U.S., however, implemented only a scattershot collection of lockdown orders earlier this year — with Trump declining to issue a nationwide mandate and leaving it to local and state leaders to announce their own restrictions.
Fauci himself told CNN in an interview Monday that officials “are not talking about shutting down” when advocating public health measures, saying: “Let’s get that off the table.”
Trump did announce a ban on travel from China in January. But his travel restrictions came after the coronavirus had already begun rampaging across China, and they did not accompany broader federal efforts to prepare the U.S. for the coming pandemic.
Additionally, Trump’s travel ban included exemptions that reportedly allowed nearly 40,000 people to enter the U.S. on direct flights from China.
As for Trump’s assertion that he saved 2 million Americans, British researchers reported in March that the coronavirus could result in the deaths of as many of 2.2 million people in the U.S.
But that model predicted the death toll would only reach such heights if the U.S. took no action whatsoever to halt the disease’s spread, an unrealistic scenario.
Trump has repeatedly touted the earlier, more dire forecast of coronavirus deaths to argue his administration’s response has been a success.
Trump’s latest broadside against Fauci represents yet another effort by the White House to cast doubt on the credibility of one of the administration’s most trusted public health officials.
But the tweet from the president also seemingly undermines the 30-second ad his campaign released Saturday, which prominently features Fauci assessing Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.
“I can’t imagine that … anybody could be doing more,” Fauci says in the ad — a quote he claimed Sunday was included “without my permission” and “taken out of context” from a broader statement about the federal pandemic response.
Fauci has continued to express his displeasure with the ad this week, emphasizing Monday that he has never endorsed a political candidate during his more than three decades as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“To take a completely out of context statement and put it in which is obviously a political campaign ad, I thought was really very disappointing,” he told CNN.
Trump’s feud with Fauci comes as the president’s reelection team is facing pushback for featuring his two highest-ranking Pentagon officials in another campaign ad online.
The ad uses an image of Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley — seated together in the Situation Room while watching the raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last October — to link to the campaign’s voter sign-up page.
The Trump campaign did not seek Milley’s approval to feature him in the ad, POLITICO reported Monday, and the military has strict rules against uniformed service members participating in political campaigns.