Trump aides seek to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci
The Trump administration is increasingly at war with Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top public health expert, over the handling of the coronavirus crisis, as the US continues to report around 60,000 new cases a day.
In what appeared to be a concerted effort to discredit the infectious diseases expert, Trump aides told news outlets over the weekend Fauci, who has become the public face of the government’s response, had made a series of “mistakes” in his predictions.
Fauci’s unvarnished manner and willingness to be blunt in a way that may question or contradict statements by the president have fed reports he has been barred from major media appearances, though he has testified in Congress and continued to speak to the press. Fauci said last week he had not briefed Trump in months.
The US contributed heavily to 230,000 new cases of Covid-19 being reported to the World Health Organization on Sunday. Trump has formally started the process of withdrawing the US from the WHO. Joe Biden, Trump’s opponent for the presidency in November, has said he will reverse that decision, which will take effect in July 2021.
States in the American south in particular appear to be suffering from lifting lockdowns too early. The WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned on Monday that those witnessing resurgences of the virus were not following proven methods to reduce risk.
“Let me blunt,” he said. “Too many countries are headed in the wrong direction. The virus remains public enemy number one, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this.”
The Trump administration’s unseemly effort against Fauci came as doctors warned that hospitals in several large cities across the US south are close to being overrun.
Florida reported 12,264 new cases on Monday, its second-highest total after 15,299 on Sunday. Just over four months after the first coronavirus death in the US, and as many countries have seemingly managed a decline in cases, the US is still in the grip of the virus. As of Monday, Johns Hopkins University reported more than 3.33m cases and 135,500 deaths.
Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time over the weekend, a long-delayed concession to the importance of face coverings in preventing the spread of Covid-19. But the government’s predominant focus appeared to be on discrediting the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a 79-year-old public figure who has served under six presidents.
“Several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr Fauci has been wrong on things,” an anonymous Trump aide said in a statement released to news outlets.
CNN reported being given bullet points listing statements made by Fauci early in the pandemic, a list which it said “resembled opposition research on a political opponent”.
On Monday Trump himself picked up the offensive, retweeting a post from a former TV dating show host which criticized the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Everyone is lying,” said the post from Chuck Woolery, who hosted the show Love Connection in the 1980s and 90s. “The CDC, media, Democrats, our doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust.”
Adam Schiff, an influential Democratic congressman, described the president’s behaviour as “atrocious”, telling CNN it was “so characteristic of Donald Trump. He can’t stand the fact that the American people trust Dr Fauci and they don’t trust Donald Trump – and so he has to tear him down.”
At a briefing on Monday afternoon, Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, denied the White House was sending out opposition research on Fauci, adding that the bullet points had been provided as “a direct answer to a direct question” from the Washington Post.
Despite the US recording more daily cases than in the early days of the pandemic, deaths are yet to hit the highs of April, when Covid-19 ravaged New York City and areas in other eastern seaboard states.
On Sunday, New York City health officials recorded no coronavirus deaths for the first time since the first death on 11 March, though Mayor Bill de Blasio said there had been an increase in infections among 20- to 29-year olds.
Experts nonetheless say deaths are likely to rise in the coming weeks. Florida alone has now recorded 269,811 coronavirus cases, and the state reported 514 fatalities over the past week, an average of 73 a day. Three weeks ago, Florida was averaging 30 deaths a day.
Texas has also set records for cases in recent days, and on Monday the chief executive of Houston’s public health system warned hospitals were struggling to cope.
“The situation, the best I can describe it is dire and it’s getting worse, it seems like, every day,” Esmail Porsa told MSNBC.
Houston was taken to court by the Texas Republican party over its refusal to allow the party’s convention to go ahead with in-person events. The city won a minor battle on Monday when the state supreme court ruled it was able to cancel the convention.
After Trump wore a mask on Saturday, Adm Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, said mask-wearing in public, which has met with resistance in some Republican-dominated states, was “absolutely essential”.
Giroir, assistant secretary at the health and human services department, told ABC: “If we don’t have that, we will not get control of the virus.”
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