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Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has been one of the most trusted and prominent faces of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
His calm demeanor and decades of experience have served as a counter to President Trump’s at times erratic and misleading messaging at White House briefings. Many Americans have consistently regarded Fauci — who has served six presidents and played a critical role in battling the AIDS epidemic — as their most trusted source of coronavirus information.
Fauci’s standing among Republicans, however, has begun to lag in recent weeks, as his cautious message is conflicting with the president’s enthusiasm for lifting stay-at-home orders in an effort to revive the economy.
In April, Trump retweeted a post that contained the hashtag #FireFauci shortly after an interview in which Fauci said earlier intervention in the crisis would have saved lives. The White House pushed back at media speculation at the time that Fauci might be fired, though the doctor’s presence at administration briefings was noticeably reduced.
Fauci came under more direct criticism from conservatives last week after warning during a Senate hearing that reopening the country too soon would lead to “avoidable suffering and death.” The hearing featured a tense exchange with GOP Sen. Rand Paul over when children should return to school. Fauci was chided by several hosts on Fox News later that night, with Tucker Carlson calling him “the chief buffoon of the professional class.” The next day, Trump said Fauci’s statements about reopening schools were “unacceptable.”
Why there’s debate
Some observers see this series of rebukes from the president and his allies as part of an escalating conflict that ultimately ends in Fauci being fired. Fauci’s caution against reopening the country has put him at odds with the administration’s goals. Trump may not tolerate having one of his top advisers contradict him, especially if he believes it’s hurting him politically, some pundits argue.
The pressure for Trump to distance himself from Fauci could increase if conservative news pundits continue or escalate their criticisms. Trump wouldn’t necessarily need to fire his top pandemic adviser to silence him. Fauci’s role on the coronavirus task force could quietly be diminished in a way that would avoid potential fallout from an outright dismissal.
The administration has consistently scoffed at reports of tension between Trump and Fauci, saying that's a narrative pushed by the media. “Today I walk in, I hear I’m going to fire him. I’m not firing him,” Trump said earlier this month. The level of respect Fauci has garnered among the American people for his role in combating the pandemic would make firing him an enormous political scandal, some argue. Others say Fauci has built up enough political savvy during his many decades in public service to navigate the complexities of working under Trump.
Firing Fauci would also present some practical challenges. As head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — a post he’s held since 1984 — Fauci is not a political appointee and can’t be removed directly by the president. The order would have to come from one of Fauci’s bosses, likely Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Fauci also would likely have the opportunity to appeal any dismissal, which could lead to a drawn-out legal struggle that draws major media attention.
Fauci will quietly have his role reduced down to nothing
“The only federal official who stands between us and repeated waves of COVID will continue to be downsized by Trump, if not fired, so that Trump apologist Deborah Birx can take center stage.” — Frank Rich, New York Magazine
Trump has a history of jettisoning officials who disagree with him
“Past public disagreements between Trump and officials serving in his administration have not ended amicably. ...The spats frequently led to more public disparagement by Trump followed by an eventual dismissal or resignation. But in the case of Fauci, who holds no policymaking position in the government, Trump could simply ignore him rather than work with him.” — Allyson Chiu, Washington Post
Sustained criticism from Fox News could push Fauci out the door
“The right-wing propagandists seem to be on a mission to force the top infectious disease expert’s removal from the administration amid an ongoing pandemic.” — Matt Gertz, Media Matters
Drama around Fauci is mostly created by the media
“The point is that Paul and Fauci did not actually engage in some huge clash of conflicting visions, but agenda-setters in the media need something to fight about.” — Robby Soave, Reason
Firing Fauci would be a complicated, drawn-out process
“Could Trump actually fire Fauci if he wanted to? It’s not so simple. Even if you put aside the political firestorm it would cause, Trump could not just oust Fauci from his position by tweet. He would need to tell Fauci’s supervisor to remove him, and that person would need to state a valid cause in writing, with the outcome subject to a legal appeal.” — Dan Friedman, Mother Jones
Trump knows to avoid the political fallout that would come from firing Fauci
“Fauci, though, is the public face of the epidemic-response team and immensely popular. To fire him, simply because he tells the truth, carries a political risk that Trump is apparently unwilling to take — for now.” — Michael Specter, New Yorker
Fauci has the political skills to challenge the president and keep his job
“While Trump may have turned against Fauci, he is unlikely to go away. The 79-year-old is fighting the battle of his professional life against the pandemic and has political savvy to spare after decades in Washington. ” — Stephen Collinson, CNN
Pushback against Fauci helps keep his role focused on his areas of expertise
“Part of the hostility to Fauci on the right is an understandable reaction to progressives and the media putting him on a pedestal he doesn’t deserve. They want to make Fauci an unassailable authority to put the lockdowns beyond question or debate. This is a rhetorical and political move that should be resisted.” — Rich Lowry, Politico
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