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Fauci disappears from White House after contradicting Trump

Jordan Fabian
Bloomberg

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert who is the most credible U.S. spokesperson on the coronavirus outbreak, has been absent from White House events for three days after contradicting President Donald Trump.

Fauci participated in a White House news conference on Friday, where TV cameras caught him putting his face in his hands after Trump disparaged the State Department as the “deep State Department.” He then gave an interview to Science magazine on Sunday in which he agreed that Trump makes false statements about the outbreak and said his response is to “try and get it corrected for the next time.”

Fauci didn’t appear at White House news conferences on Sunday or Monday or at a “virtual town hall” that Fox News broadcast from the White House on Tuesday. Another doctor who advises Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, State Department official Deborah Birx, fielded technical questions about the outbreak at the events Monday and Tuesday.

Fauci was also expected to make an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program on Monday night, but he did not go on air.

But Fauci, in an interview Tuesday with WMAL, disputed the idea that he’s had a falling out with Trump.

“The president has listened to what I have said and what the other people on the task force have said,” Fauci said. “When I’ve made recommendations, he has taken them. He has never countered or overridden me. The idea of just pitting one against the other is not helpful. I wish that would stop and we’d look ahead at the challenge we have to pull together to get over this thing.”

Since the beginning of the outbreak, Fauci has been praised as a reassuring voice for Americans who have seen their lives upended by “social distancing” measures intended to stop the virus’s spread. Fauci’s recent absence has generated speculation Trump has sidelined the outspoken doctor.

The president on Tuesday re-tweeted a photo of Fauci covering his face at Friday’s news conference. The tweet was later deleted.

The New York Times reported Monday that Trump and some of his advisers have grown impatient with Fauci, who has notably disagreed with Trump’s promotion of a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, as a treatment for coronavirus. The FDA hasn’t approved the drug to treat the virus and Fauci has said there is only “anecdotal” evidence it might be effective.

Fauci is also among a group of top government health experts who have argued that in the absence of both effective treatments for the virus and widespread testing for infection, only lengthy, economically painful restrictions on daily life can slow the outbreak. Trump has shown impatience with those measures in recent days, saying Tuesday he wants the U.S. economy re-opened by Easter.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday she would be concerned if Fauci’s advice was being ignored.

“Dr. Fauci is a truth-teller,” Pelosi, a Democrat from California, said on MSNBC.

Trump on Tuesday downplayed the notion that Fauci’s absence signals he is angry with the doctor, saying at a Fox News town hall that Fauci “has other things to do.” Trump was accompanied at the Rose Garden event by Pence, Birx and Surgeon General Jerome Adams.

“We get along very well,” Trump said when asked about his relationship with Fauci, whom he called “extraordinary.” “I think it is very good, you would have heard about it if it wasn’t.”

Fauci and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where he is the director, did not respond to a request for comment.