Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top scientific adviser to the coronavirus task force, admitted that he finds President Trump’s disregard of facts frustrating at times, but that to the president’s credit, “on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
In an interview with Science magazine’s Jon Cohen published Sunday night, Fauci was asked about some of the misinformation Trump has spread from the White House podium, often with the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases standing by his side.
“What about the travel restrictions?” asked Cohen. “President Trump keeps saying that the travel ban for China, which began [Feb. 2], had a big impact [on slowing the spread of the virus to the United States] and that he wishes China would have told us three to four months earlier and that they were ‘very secretive.’ It just doesn’t comport with facts.”
“I know, but what do you want me to do?” replied Fauci. “I mean, seriously, Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?”
China initially attempted to cover up the spread of the virus, but by Jan. 10 researchers there had made the sequence of the virus public. Despite receiving intelligence briefings on the dangers of the potential spread, Trump spent weeks downplaying it.
“Most everyone thinks that you’re doing a remarkable job, but you’re standing there as the representative of truth and facts, but things are being said that aren’t true and aren’t factual,” said Cohen.
“The way it happened,” Fauci explained, “is that after he made that statement [suggesting China could have revealed the discovery of the virus months earlier], I told the appropriate people, it doesn’t comport, because two or three months earlier would have been September,” before the first cases even appeared. “The next time they sit down with him and talk about what he’s going to say, they will say, by the way, ‘Mr. President, be careful about this and don’t say that.’ But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”
When asked about the term “Chinese virus,” which Trump uses to make a political point but many Americans consider offensive, Fauci said he would never use it; scientists refer to “the novel coronavirus.”
But Fauci said Trump does listen to him.
“To [Trump’s] credit, even though we disagree on some things, he listens,” said Fauci. “He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
The 2008 Medal of Freedom recipient, who was a leader as long ago as the 1980s in the fight against AIDS, has had to gently correct Trump a number of times during the daily coronavirus briefings, which usually start calmly with the president reading prepared statements and then veer off the rails as reporters ask questions. Over the past week, Fauci has attempted to temper Trump’s enthusiasm on potential treatments for coronavirus and confirmed stories of hospitals facing supply shortages after the president attempted to downplay them.
Fauci credited Vice President Mike Pence for attempting to limit the number of people in the situation room during meetings, adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on limiting gatherings to 10 people. He added that he was pushing for virtual press conferences, as the daily task force press conferences bring dozens of officials and journalists into the White House briefing room. For the past week, reporters have sat in staggered rows with an empty chair between them, but less than the 6 to 10 feet of separation considered ideal.
Cohen also asked Fauci about a moment during a press conference when Trump referred to the conspiracy theory of a “deep state” against him.
“At Friday’s press conference, you put your hands over your face when President Trump referred to the ‘deep State Department.’ It’s even become an internet meme. Have you been criticized for what you did?” asked Cohen.
“No comment,” replied Fauci.
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