Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious disease, has responded to the White House’s recent efforts to discredit him as the coronavirus crisis worsens across wide swaths of the United States ― calling it “bizarre.”
“Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci told The Atlantic Wednesday. He explained: “I think if you talk to reasonable people in the White House, they realize that was a major mistake on their part, because it doesn’t do anything but reflect poorly on them. And I don’t think that that was their intention.”
Fauci spoke with the outlet this week for a report published just hours after a senior Trump administration official, Peter Navarro, published an op-ed attacking the esteemed doctor. The White House’s communications shop quickly sought to distance Trump from Navarro’s piece, which was headlined, “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”
A spokeswoman said the op-ed did not “go through normal White House clearance processes” and was therefore nothing but Navarro’s personal opinion.
“I can’t explain Peter Navarro,” Fauci told The Atlantic. “He’s in a world by himself. So I don’t even want to go there.”
But Navarro’s attack wasn’t an isolated event; it came just two days after a leaked White House memo revealed an effort to use some of Fauci’s statements from the early days of the crisis that contradict current guidance as ammunition against him. President Donald Trump has also shared messages critical of Fauci and other public health experts on Twitter, and he publicly aired his disagreements with Fauci in an interview last week.
Asked how he works with such a chaotic White House, Fauci said, “Well, that is a bit bizarre. I sit here and just shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Well, you know, that’s life in the fast lane.’”
He said he has no plans to quit the White House coronavirus task force.
“I think the problem is too important for me to get into those kinds of thoughts and discussions,” he told The Atlantic. “I just want to do my job. I’m really good at it. I think I can contribute. And I’m going to keep doing it.”
The task force, headed up by Vice President Mike Pence, stopped its daily coronavirus briefings several weeks ago, and Fauci has said that his direct communication with Trump has slowed to a trickle. He speaks instead with Dr. Deborah Birx, another member of the task force, and other officials such as CDC Director Robert Redfield.
When asked why his contact with Trump has been so limited, Fauci said he didn’t know.
“My input to the president goes through the vice president,” he said.
Fauci stood by all of his past comments, explaining that “contextually, at the time ... it was absolutely true.” While scientists still know relatively little about the virus, understanding has increased significantly since the earliest days of the crisis.
Over the last month, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in many places, prompting several states to press pause on ― or even roll back ― their reopening plans.
Trump, however, appears to regard the crisis as a political threat. The president has consistently sought to downplay the risks of the virus, which has pushed unemployment to the worst levels since the Great Depression and wrought havoc on the nation’s economy.
What the U.S. needs to do, Fauci said, is “call a time-out” on states’ reopening plans in order “to get everybody on the same team” in regard to masks and crowded spaces. If states take those precautions, Fauci said, “I’ll guarantee you those numbers will come down.”
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.