The Memo: Fauci at odds with Trump on virus

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciCheney defends Fauci: ‘We need his expertise’ to defeat coronavirus Georgia governor orders bars, night clubs, concert venues to remain closed until end of May Kushner acknowledges ‘risk’ in reopening too quickly MORE delivered a simple message Tuesday: mission not yet accomplished.

The nation’s top expert on infectious diseases spoke in a measured tone and was careful not to personalize his differences with President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew York Times: Reporter who called for CDC chief’s resignation went ‘too far’ GOP’s Don Bacon and challenger neck-and-neck in Democratic poll Cheney defends Fauci: ‘We need his expertise’ to defeat coronavirus MORE.

But he left little doubt about his unease with the president’s bullish view of the coronavirus crisis as he testified remotely before the Senate Health Committee.

And on some points, Fauci did flatly contradict Trump.

The president has argued in recent days that the threat from the coronavirus will simply “go away” even in the absence of a vaccine.

Not so, said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“That is just not going to happen,” he said. “It’s a highly transmissible virus. It is likely there will be virus somewhere on this planet that will likely get back to us.”

Fauci also told Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins Nebraska primary Overnight Health Care: Fauci warns of reopening too quickly | House Dems unveil trillion relief package | Real death count could be higher than 80,000 Organizing communities of color during COVID-19 MORE (I-Vt.) that the true death toll from COVID-19 was likely higher than official data suggests.

But the broader difference lay in Fauci’s tone. 

Trump and others in his administration have talked up a rapid recovery from the crisis, both in terms of public health and the economy.

Vice President Pence recently told Geraldo Rivera on the latter’s radio show that the nation could have put the worst of the crisis behind it by Memorial Day. The president’s son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerKushner acknowledges ‘risk’ in reopening too quickly The Memo: Trump fights for second term amid the new abnormal Supreme Court to hear blockbuster case on Trump financial records MORE has said that the nation could be “really rocking again” by July. 

Last month, Trump appeared to give support to protesters who were pushing back against tight restrictions in their states. His position on state reopenings has grown more complicated since then, but his overall emphasis is less cautious than Fauci’s.

“The consequences could be really serious” if states reopen prematurely, Fauci said Tuesday. 

He emphasized that this, in turn, could derail any chances of the economic recovery upon which so many people — including Trump — have pinned their hopes. Moving too fast, he said, would lead to “some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery.” 

The likely effects of Tuesday’s testimony on Fauci’s relationship with Trump remain to be seen. Fauci testified from home, where he is self-quarantining, though news emerged later Tuesday that he had been cleared to return to the White House.

Trump has a history of sidelining people whom he sees as taking the spotlight away from him. Various past members of his administration — Stephen Bannon, Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Memo: Speculation grows about Fauci’s future Stumbling US diplomacy flattens Washington’s influence curve Trump lashes out over Kelly criticism: ‘He misses the action’ MORE, John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE and Anthony ScaramucciAnthony ScaramucciThe Memo: Speculation grows about Fauci’s future Well-wishes pour in across media for Chris Cuomo after coronavirus diagnosis The Memo: Trump mulls the biggest gamble of his presidency MORE among them — have suffered some version of that fate.

Fauci has often seemed to tread a fine line during this crisis, seeking to neither burn his bridges with Trump nor erode his own storied scientific reputation. On Tuesday, he denied that his relationship with Trump was confrontational, in response to a question from Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerFauci: ‘There is certainly not a confrontational relationship between me and the president’ Georgia AG vows investigation into handling of Ahmaud Arbery’s death Father and son accused in Ahmaud Arbery shooting arrested MORE (R-Ga.). 

“I give advice, opinion based on evidence-based scientific information. He hears that. He respects it,” Fauci said of the president.

Be that as it may, the dangers to Trump from his testimony are clear. 

Fauci’s voice is one of the most trusted in the nation on a huge issue where the president has fared badly with Election Day six months away.

A new CNN-SSRS poll released Tuesday morning, just hours before Fauci’s testimony began, underlined the point.

Trump’s overall approval rating was tepid but not disastrous: 45 percent of adults approved and 51 percent disapproved. But his rating on his handling of COVID-19 was worse, with 42 percent approving and 55 percent disapproving. 

Adding further problems for the president, Fauci leaves him far behind when it comes to the crucial area of public trust.

The CNN poll indicated that 67 percent of respondents believe Fauci to be trustworthy in the information he provides. This figure dwarfed the 36 percent who deem Trump credible on the virus. A full 62 percent said they generally don’t trust what Trump says on the subject.

A key part of the Trump administration’s narrative also came under attack by two Republicans on Tuesday. 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Health Care: Fauci warns of reopening too quickly | House Dems unveil trillion relief package | Real death count could be higher than 80,000 Five takeaways as Senate panel hears from Fauci, Trump health officials Senator’s dog Rufus steals spotlight during Senate health hearing MORE (Utah), the only Senate Republican to vote to convict Trump in impeachment proceedings earlier this year, took issue with positive assessments of the testing procedures that have been put in place to combat COVID-19. 

“I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever,” he said.

The Health panel’s chairman, Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderFive takeaways as Senate panel hears from Fauci, Trump health officials Senator’s dog Rufus steals spotlight during Senate health hearing The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Fauci testifies, discusses students returning in August MORE (R-Tenn.), who was speaking from home after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, took a similar tack. 

“What our country has done so far in testing is impressive, but not nearly enough,” Alexander said.

Democrats seized on the day’s events to buttress their case against Trump. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenGOP’s Don Bacon and challenger neck-and-neck in Democratic poll Hillicon Valley: House Dems include .6 billion for mail-in voting in stimulus bill | Uber in discussions to acquire GrubHub | Trump backs effort to reopen California Tesla plant Schumer on Reade allegation: Biden’s explanation is ‘sufficient’ MORE (D-Mass.) asserted that “the president needs to stop pretending that if he just ignores bad news, it will go away. … The time for magical thinking is over, here.”

At a White House briefing on Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump’s handling of the crisis.

She said, with respect to reopening, that “he has encouraged states to follow the guidelines.”

She added, “I do want to stress, as the president has stressed, that we do want to reopen this country, because there are consequences that run the other way when we stay closed down.”

But the difference in tone between the administration and the nation’s top expert is hard to paper over.

On Monday, Trump claimed that, when it came to testing, the nation had “met the moment” and “prevailed.”

Fauci was clear in his belief that America has not — in terms of testing or in the bigger battle against the pandemic.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency. 

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