WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday defended Dr. Anthony Fauci in public comments made soon after he tweeted out a photo of the two of them at the White House.
"Dr. Fauci is a valued member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force," Pence said on a campaign call with reporters when asked about recent attacks on Fauci by others in the administration. "We just completed our latest meeting today and we couldn’t be more grateful for his steady counsel."
The photo he tweeted showed Fauci sitting at Pence's right hand during the meeting.
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
Pence's comments came a day after White House trade adviser Peter Navarro criticized Fauci in an opinion piece for USA TODAY that included remarks he'd made earlier in the week.
White House director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah tweeted Wednesday that Navarro's op-ed was not approved by the White House and was "the opinion of Peter alone."
Asked by a reporter in the Oval Office Wednesday about Navarro's op-ed, President Donald Trump said, "that's Peter Navarro, but I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci." Asked again about the op-ed when leaving the White House, Trump said "we're all on the same team. Including Dr. Fauci."
But Dan Scavino, the White House director of social media, previously posted a cartoon on Facebook portraying Fauci as a faucet, flushing the U.S. economy down the drain.
"Sorry, Dr. Faucet!" he posted. "At least you know if I’m going to disagree with a colleague, such as yourself, it’s done publicly – and not cowardly, behind journalists with leaks."
And in an interview last Thursday with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Trump said Fauci had "made a lot of mistakes" but called him a "nice man."
The mixed messages from the White House came as two polls released Wednesday show the public gives Fauci much higher marks than Trump for the administration's handling of the coronavirus response.
More than six in 10 American voters surveyed by Morning Consult said Fauci's work on the pandemic has been "excellent" or "good" while only 36% said the same of Trump.
Similarly, about two-thirds of voters surveyed by Quinnipiac University Poll said they don't trust the information Trump is providing about the coronavirus. Nearly two-thirds said they do trust Fauci.
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Fauci commented on the controversy in a series of interviews published with The Atlantic later Wednesday.
He called the attacks on him from within the White House "bizarre" and said it "hurts the president to do that."
"When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president," Fauci said.
Stephen Moore, a conservative economist and a member of the president's task force to reopen the economy, told USA TODAY he and his team at the Committee to Unleash Prosperity are compiling a policy memo to highlight Fauci's record as a longtime government health official, claiming he's been wrong on predicting the course of pandemics.
"He's become a big problem for Trump because he keeps contradicting what the White House is saying," Moore said. "Obviously he's had his run and now the White House is trying to distance themselves from him. And that's become a PR nightmare."
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian and Nicholas Wu.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vice President Mike Pence defends Dr. Anthony Fauci after others attack