On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” with host Jake Tapper, in which Tapper repeatedly questioned Fauci about the Trump administration’s decision-making in February. Fauci responded by stating that lives could have been saved if different measures had been taken, but that decision-making on matters of such magnitude is not purely a public health process.
That led to Trump retweeting a tweet that included a call to fire Fauci, which must have come as music to the ears of Trump-critics who have consistently tried to create distance between Fauci and the president.
The relevant part of the conversation between Tapper and Fauci went like this:
Tapper: South Korea and the U.S. announced their first confirmed coronavirus cases at virtually the same time in late January. If you take a look at where we are right now in the U.S.; the U.S. now has 50 times for cases and almost 100 times more fatalities than South Korea. Meanwhile, while the U.S. makes up only about 4.25% of the world’s populations the U.S. has 30% of the world’s coronavirus cases and almost 20% of the world’s reported deaths. Sanjay Gupta said this is all because we got started too late in the U.S. Is that right? Do you agree?
Fauci: You know, it isn’t as simple as that, Jake, I’m sorry. I disagree. To say this is all happening because we got started too late, obviously, if you look, could we have done something a little bit earlier that would have had an impact? Obviously. But where we are right now is the result of a number of factors: the size of the country; the homogeneity of the country. I think it’s a little bit unfair to compare us to South Korea, where they had an outbreak in Daegu and they had the capability of immediately essentially shutting it off completely in a way that we may not have ben able to do in this country. So obviously it would have been nice if we had a better head start, but I don’t think you could say that we are where we are right now because of one factor. It’s very complicated, Jake.
Tapper: The New York Times reported yesterday that you and other top officials wanted to recommend social and physical distancing guidelines to President Trump as far back as the third week of February, but the administration didn’t announce such guidelines to the American public until March 16th, almost a month later. Why?
Fauci: You know, Jake, as I’ve said many times, we look at it from a pure health standpoint. We make a recommendation, often the recommendation is taken. Sometimes it’s not but it is what it is we are where we are right now.
Tapper: Do you think lives could have been saved if social distancing, physical distancing, stay-at-home measures, had started the third week of February instead of mid-March?
Fauci: You know, Jake, again, it’s the “what would have, what could have.” It’s very difficult to go back and say 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. Obviously no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated. But you’re right, I mean, 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 back then.
A California GOP candidate who ran and lost in the GOP primary for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s seat in March responded to the Tapper-Fauci interview by tweeting, “Fauci is now saying that had Trump listened to the medical experts earlier he could’ve saved more lives. Fauci was telling people on February 29th that there was nothing to worry about and it posed no threat to the US public at large. Time to #FireFauci.”
Fauci is now saying that had Trump listened to the medical experts earlier he could've saved more lives.
Fauci was telling people on February 29th that there was nothing to worry about and it posed no threat to the US public at large.
Time to #FireFauci…
— DeAnna Lorraine 🇺🇸 (@DeAnna4Congress) April 12, 2020
Trump retweeted the tweet, adding, “Sorry Fake news, it’s all on tape. I banned China long ago before people spoke up. Thank you @OANN.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2020
In an exchange in late February, Fauci was asked, “Dr. Fauci, it’s Saturday morning in America. People are waking up right now with real concerns about this; they want to go to malls and movies, maybe the gym as well. Should we be changing our habits, and if so, how?”
Fauci responded, “No. Right now, at this moment, there is no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis. Right now the risk is still low, but this could change; I’ve said that many times, even on this program. You’ve gotta watch out because although the risk is low now, you don’t need to change anything that you’re doing. When you start to see community spread, this could change and force you to become much more attentive to doing things that would protect you from spread.”
In mid-March, Fauci was given the chance to blame Trump for the slow pace of coronavirus testing in the United States and refused, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt, “It was a complicated series of multiple things that conflated that just, you know, went the wrong way. One of them was a technical glitch that slowed things down in the beginning. Nobody’s fault. There wasn’t any bad guys there. It just happened”
Hewitt asked, “Was the glitch or anything about the production of the test President Trump’s fault? Or actually, let me put it more broadly, would every president have run into the same problem?”
Fauci answered, “Oh, absolutely. This has nothing to do with anybody’s fault, certainly not the president’s fault.”