Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP
An attack by the Trump camp on the White House’s Coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci backfires, leaving Donald Trump scrambling for cover.
The written assault, through an editorial in USA Today by senior Trump advisor Peter Navarro, came as US deaths reached 137,407, an increase of 951 in 24 hours.
Confirmed cases rose to 3,497,847, with 66,727 infections reported on Wednesday.
Trump and his inner circle have been assailing Fauci this month over the doctor’s assessment that the US is not only “still in a first wave” of Coronavirus but facing increased danger and a “very distressing” death toll. The evaluation threatens Trump’s re-election tactic of “reopening” the US as quickly as possible.
Despite a record-setting surge in cases bearing out Fauci’s diagnosis, Navarro wrote in USA Today:
Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.
Navarro’s repeated Trump’s claim that Fauci opposed a ban on travel from China in January, the one substantive taken by Trump as the virus spread — and a measure supposed by Navarro, a fierce critic of Beijing and trade protection “hawk”, and anti-immigration advisor Stephen Miller as a punishment of the Chinese and marker of closed borders.
He also echoed Trump’s criticisms that “Fauci was still telling the public the China virus was low risk” in February and that the doctor “was flip-flopping on the use of masks”.
The advisor added Fauci’s rebuff of Trump’s false claims of a “falling mortality rate” by 90% and the “wonder cure” of the anti-malarial drug hydroxylchloroquine, leading USA Today to add a warning to the article:
Several of Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci — on the China travel restrictions, the risk from the Coronavirus and falling mortality rates — were misleading or lacked context. As such, Navarro’s op-ed did not meet USA TODAY’s fact-checking standards.
White House in Full Retreat
The appearance of the op-ed failed to dent Fauci’s expertise and veracity. Instead, it raised further questions about Trump’s management of the crisis and division within the Administration.
So the White House went into damage control mode on Wednesday.
Chief of Staff Mark Meadows claimed that he had not read the article, then distanced the Administration from it:
Peter Navarro’s statement or op-ed or whatever you want to classify it as was an independent action that was a violation of well-established protocols that was not supported overtly or covertly by anybody in the West Wing.
Vice President Mike Pence said, as his office circulated a picture of Fauci sitting next to him at a meeting of the Coronavirus task force, “He’s a valued member of our team….[Administration officials have great respect for him.”
Productive meeting of the @WhiteHouse Coronavirus Task Force today. As we continue to put the health and well-being of the American people first, we are working closely with states to move forward, safely reopening our Nation and get Americans back to work. pic.twitter.com/WxsZwd8kiM
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) July 15, 2020
Trump got on script as he told reporters, “We’re all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci….[Navarro] shouldn’t be doing that.”
But a well-placed official undid the damage control by revealing, “Not only was [Navarro] authorized by Trump, he was encouraged.”
Trashing the Expert
In the past week, Trump has used a series of interviews to deride Fauci as “wrong” and making “a lot of mistakes”. A White House statement chastised the doctor’s “inaccurate” assessments.
The Administration has blocked Fauci from appearing on US television. Fauci has responded by using Congressional testimony, webcasts, and interviews with foreign outlets to set out information and guidance for the American public.
Trump has been irritated by far higher confidence in Fauci than in him. The latest nationwide poll from Quinnipiac University, released Wednesday, found 65% trusted Fauci compared to 26% trust in Trump. Only 30% distrusted Fauci, with Trump at 67%.
So on Sunday, the White House’s social media director Dan Scavino mocked Fauci on Facebook:
White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and Director of Social Media posts cartoon and message on FB attacking the nation’s leading infectious disease expert for telling the truth about this deadly pandemic. https://t.co/lqwUFHTCYP pic.twitter.com/gR3oHoV1eH
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) July 14, 2020
Fauci said yesterday that he had told Chief of Staff Meadows on Monday about the “bizarre”, “nonsense”, and “completely wrong” attacks from the White House, “Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that.”
He added, “I can’t explain Peter Navarro. He’s in a world by himself.”
Fauci said Meadows offered the same denial to him that the Chief of Staff gave to journalists on Wednesday, “There was no apology. He said that he didn’t know about it.”