During a fiery White House press briefing Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci dismissed rumors that he thinks President Donald Trump botched the coronavirus response. Fauci, who is known for being generally calm and apolitical, also snapped at a reporter who questioned whether his comments were made “voluntarily.”
“Everything I do is voluntary. Please. Don’t even imply that,” the doctor glowered.
“Poor choice of words”
Rumors that Fauci was skating on thin ice flared on Easter Sunday after Trump retweeted a tweet calling for the doctor’s firing, on the same day that Fauci told CNN that “hypothetically” more lives could have been saved if mitigation efforts were implemented sooner.
President Trump also bashed The New York Times in response to a lengthy article claiming that he ignored warnings in the early months of the pandemic. This melodrama spilled over into a combative press briefing Monday night.
Early on in the briefing, Dr. Fauci took the podium to address the rumors that he did not approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis. The doctor said that the question he had been asked on CNN was a “hypothetical” one about whether earlier social distancing would have limited the death toll — the answer is yes, obviously, he said — and that his response had been misinterpreted as assigning blame, explaining that “pushback” was a “poor choice of words.”
“When people discuss — not necessarily in front of the president — people discuss, they say, ‘Well you know, this is gonna have maybe a harmful effect on this or on that’. So it was a poor choice of words. There wasn’t anybody saying, ‘No, you shouldn’t do that,’” Fauci said.
Both Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx approached Trump twice about implementing mitigation, and both times Trump agreed with the health experts’ advice, Fauci said. Watch:
Trump slams media
The White House dismissed the speculation of Fauci’s firing as “ridiculous” on Monday, and the president also affirmed that he likes Fauci, or “Tony,” as Trump endearingly calls him, at the press briefing. People were reading meaning into the retweet that simply wasn’t there.
“I like him. Today I walk in, I hear I’m gonna fire him. I’m not firing — I think he’s a wonderful guy,” Trump said. “I retweeted somebody, I don’t know. They said fire — it doesn’t matter […] This is a person’s view. Not everybody’s happy with Anthony. Not everybody’s happy with everybody.”
Trump spent much of the briefing excoriating the media and getting into testy exchanges with reporters over his handling of the virus. Early on, Trump played a video montage highlighting the media’s initial downplaying of the pandemic, “decisive” actions Trump took to contain it, and praise from governors for his response, that left journalists in the room visibly flabbergasted and liberal networks like CNN gasping for air.
“Trump melts down in angry response to reports he ignored virus warnings,” read a hysterical chyron from CNN.
While Trump’s response was certainly more heated than Fauci’s, it looks like even the doctor is starting to lose his patience with the media.