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It Sure Seems Like Donald Trump Is Close to Firing Dr. Fauci, Probably via Tweet

Donald Trump listens as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force press briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House

Dr. Anthony Fauci has been a reassuring figure for many people during the current coronavirus pandemic. As Donald Trump’s top infectious disease specialist, Fauci has been a solid presence in the daily press briefings and in news media interviews. On a task force that puts people like Jared Kushner and Mike Pence in leadership roles, it’s comforting to know that there is at least one experienced, qualified, serious person here. So of course Trump is probably going to fire him.

Over the weekend, Trump retweeted a post from rightwing personality DeAnna Lorraine–a Laura Loomer type who tries to leverage political stunts for internet fame. She’s been vocal about her coronavirus opinions, and her Twitter page is a stream of nonsense hot takes.

She did manage to catch Trump’s attention, though. In the tweet he reposted, Lorraine writes, “Fauci is now saying that had Trump listened to the medical experts earlier he could’ve saved more lives.” She claims that Fauci himself was slow to act and used the hashtag #FireFauci. Trump retweeted that, adding his own comment that he “banned China long before people spoke up.”

Lorraine is likely responding to comments Fauci made on CNN Sunday. Jake Tapper brought up medical correspondent and fellow CNN host Sanjay Gupta’s claims that the U.S. was too slow to act in response to the coronavirus threat and first reported cases.

Fauci said that “it isn’t as simple as that.”

“I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” he told Tapper. “Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated. But you’re right. Obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down.”

The clear implication is that the “pushback” came from Trump, though Fauci never came right out and said that. And that has been Fauci’s style from the beginning. He has publicly disagreed with Trump a number of times because, as he told Tapper, he and his team come at things “from a pure health standpoint.” So when Trump says things like we might have a vaccine available within a few months, Fauci will correct him and tell the press and the public that that’s just not possible. (A year and a half, he said, was a more realistic estimate.)

Fauci has also contradicted Trump on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. Fauci has said there’s only anecdotal evidence to support its usage but Trump is so obsessed with the drug he won’t even let Fauci talk about it anymore.

Dr. Fauci knows contradicting Trump–especially publicly–is risky. A few weeks ago he told the New York Times, “I’ve been telling the president things he doesn’t want to hear. I have publicly had to say something different with what he states. It’s a risky business. But that’s my style. … I say it the way it is, and if he’s gonna get pissed off, he’s gonna get pissed off. Thankfully, he is not. Interestingly.”

He said that “up to now” Trump hasn’t felt like Fauci has been “confronting him in any way,” and that he takes the disagreement “in a good way.”

“Up to now” might be over, it seems. Trump often uses retweets of rightwing D-listers to express his displeasure with people who he sees as being critical of him. As the Washington Post’s Katie Shepherd notes,

Trump has often in the past shown his anger with critics within his own administration by retweeting the negative or taunting comments of others, sometimes marginal others like Lorraine, rather than saying anything himself. It allows him to cry “fake news” when the media interprets the retweeted material as reflecting his views.

He does have a history of doing that, claiming the media is reading too much into something, insisting he has no problem with the person he just attacked, and he keeps on insisting that right up until the moment he fires them, usually via tweet.

There is an argument against reading into those retweets, though, and it’s even more depressing than the alternative. According to a source speaking to CNN, Trump can’t always even be bothered to read the thing he’s retweeting to his 76.8 million followers.

A separate Trump adviser tried to explain Trump’s weekend retweet, saying the President often retweets posts on Twitter without reading the entire tweet.

“You guys assume he reads tweets before he retweets,” the adviser said. “He doesn’t.”

Honestly, Fauci lasted far longer than many people expected, given how often he contradicts Trump and how deeply Trump distrusts experts. (He doesn’t seem to like feeling like anyone might know more than he does.)

Right now, Trump is relentless about the notion of “opening things back up” and restarting the economy. Fauci has repeatedly said that’s not realistic and it seems like Trump might be at his breaking point in being told he’s wrong. So either Trump will replace an actual expert with a sycophant who will agree with him about everything despite the actual medical facts, or he’ll just let Jared Kushner run everything. Either way, we all lose.

(image: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.