Though he shared a tweet with the hashtag #FireFauci, President Donald Trump is not actually considering dismissing one of his top coronavirus experts, the White House insisted on Monday.
“This media chatter is ridiculous — President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci,” administration spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement to PEOPLE, referring to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of Trump’s coronavirus task force.
“Dr. Fauci has been and remains a trusted advisor to President Trump,” Gidley said.
On Sunday, Trump, 73, had quote-tweeted a post from DeAnna Lorraine (a Republican who unsuccessfully ran against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this year) that criticized a Sunday interview Fauci did with CNN in which the health official discussed the federal response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The original tweet used the hashtag #FireFauci, which Trump quote-tweeted to defend his leadership amid the virus
In his statement on Monday, Gidley cast the president’s tweet as a necessary clarification and echoed Trump’s longstanding criticism of news coverage he deems unfavorable.
Gidley also lauded the “bold decisive action” of closing travel from China, which Trump has repeatedly pointed to amid scrutiny of his larger response — such as issues with the government’s testing kits and his own downplaying of the virus compared to the seasonal flu.
“The President’s tweet clearly exposed media attempts to maliciously push a falsehood about his China decision in an attempt to rewrite history,” Gidley said.
He also said the blame for any response issues lay elsewhere.
“It was Democrats and the media who ignored Coronavirus choosing to focus on impeachment instead, and when they finally did comment on the virus it was to attack President Trump for taking the bold decisive action to save American lives by cutting off travel from China and from Europe,” he said.
Trump’s tweet sharing the #FireFauci hashtag was in response to DeAnna Lorraine, who had written that Fauci was now changing his position in order to knock the president.
In fact, in his CNN appearance, Fauci said that while a quicker government response would have been more effective in handling the pandemic, the situation was complex and not easily reduced to such simple assessments.
Host Jake Tapper noted that U.S. has become the epicenter of the pandemic worldwide compared to South Korea, which had its first confirmed case around the same time but has seen drastically fewer infections and deaths.
“[CNN’s] Sanjay Gupta said this is all because we got started too late in the U.S. — is that right, do you agree?” Tapper asked.
“It isn’t as simple as that, Jake, I’m sorry,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of Trump’s coronavirus task force.
He said that because of America’s geographic size and other factors, comparing the virus spread here to South Korea was “a little bit unfair.”
“Obviously, it would have been nice if we had a better head start, but I don’t think you could say that we are where we are right now because of one factor,” he continued. “It’s very complicated.”
Often seen at Trump’s side during White House coronavirus press conferences and in TV interviews about the pandemic, Fauci has emerged as a top figure in the fight against the highly contagious respiratory virus, urging citizens to stay home and social distance to slow the spread of the outbreak and avoid overwhelming hospitals.
While Fauci is well known and highly regarded in the field of public health and has worked with both Republican and Democratic presidents for decades, he is a new face to many Americans.
He’s also been open about disagreeing with the president on some issues.
“He goes his own way,” he told Science magazine in March. “He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
On CNN on Sunday, Fauci did not dispute reporting in The New York Times that he and other health officials had wanted social distancing guidelines announced in late February to slow the virus. But “there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then,” he said.
Such steps “logically … could have saved lives, no one is going to deny that,” Fauci said, “but what goes into those decisions is complicated.”
His matter-of-fact demeanor has earned him admirers, but the newfound fame has come at a price: While interviewing Fauci, CBS This Morning’s Gayle King brought up the reports about him having to beef up security and asked about the “personal pressure” of being the face of the pandemic for the American public and delivering sobering news on a daily basis.
“You know, it’s my job,” Fauci said at the time. “This is the life I’ve chosen, and I’m doing it. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of pressure. I would be foolish to deny that. … It’s a job to do, and we’ve just got to do it.”
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.
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