Since the start of pandemic, Five months have passed. During this period, Coronavirus killed more than 130,000 Americans, the long-simmering tensions between President Donald Trump and the health experts who staff his government has escalated from private griping to shrugging disagreement to now open dispute.
The result, people at those agencies say, is a new sense of demoralization as they continue their attempts to fight a once-in-a-generation health crisis while simultaneously navigating the whims of a President who has shown little interest or understanding of their work.
That Trump does not trust nor follow the advice of experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, is hardly new. The President has not attended a meeting of his coronavirus task force in months and recently its sessions have been held outside the White House, including on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Department of Education. Fauci was told to participate in the meeting remotely by videoconference, preventing him from participating in a midday task force press briefing.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said later that it’s a “decision for the task force” who appears at coronavirus briefings. Asked if the President still has confidence in Fauci, McEnany said only that Trump “has confidence in the conclusions of our medical experts.”
Still, the President has complained to aides in meetings for months that Fauci’s television appearances — which have been sharply curtailed by the White House — often seem to contradict his own message. As early as March, Trump was growing frustrated that Fauci’s forecasts for the virus seemed less optimistic than his own but largely avoided public rebukes.
At the same time, many of Trump’s aides have viewed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with deep skepticism for months, believing its role in early testing missteps to have been a critical failure and viewing more recent leaks of draft guidance from the agency as attempts to circumvent the White House.
Yet as cases surge across the country and Trump’s handling of the crisis causes his reelection prospects to dim, he is taking his quarrels with Fauci and the CDC public in striking new fashion.
The development bodes poorly for those hoping the federal government’s response to the virus will become more coordinated as daily case counts continue setting records and other countries bar Americans from entry.
Instead, Trump is signaling that after months of internal disputes and private griping about the agencies and officials tasked with combating the virus, he is now prepared to openly question their authority and undermine their advice.
“I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him,” Trump said in an interview on Tuesday when questioned about Fauci’s assertion the US is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.
Trump accused Fauci of waffling on early decisions in the crisis, saying he was better off ignoring experts and trusting his instincts.
“Dr. Fauci said don’t wear masks and now he says to wear them,” he told Gray Television’s, Greta Van Susteren. “And he said numerous things. Don’t close off China. Don’t ban China. I did it anyway. I didn’t listen to my experts and I banned China. We would have been in much worse shape. You wouldn’t believe the number of deaths more we would have had if we didn’t do the ban.”
Trump’s criticisms of Fauci don’t hold up entirely; the decision to advise against wearing masks was due largely to a nationwide shortage of them, and Fauci publicly backed the ban on travel from China when it was announced.
Still, Trump’s criticism of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director reflects his conviction that the health experts who he assembled early in the pandemic have steered him wrong, a view that’s been fanned by some in the conservative media who have accused Fauci and others in the administration as imposing draconian lockdown measures despite being unelected officials.
A day after criticizing Fauci, Trump accused the CDC of producing “very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools,” saying he disagreed with the health agency’s recommendations.
“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things,” Trump wrote. “I will be meeting with them!!!”
A few hours later, Vice President Mike Pence said the CDC would issue new guidance next week on reopening schools and said they shouldn’t be viewed as a barrier to returning children to classrooms.
Why Trump did not meet with the nation’s principal health agency about reopening schools before they released their guidelines and before Trump convened a roundtable to discuss the matter wasn’t clear.