President Trump used a White House press briefing on Tuesday to wonder aloud why he was less liked than Dr. Anthony Fauci, a prominent member of the White House coronavirus task force.
“Nobody likes me,” the president said in a rare moment of self-reflection. “It can only be my personality, that's all.” The lament came on the same day that the nation surpassed the grim benchmark of 150,000 deaths as a result of the worsening pandemic.
“Remember, he's working for this administration,” Trump said of Fauci, who is not a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the president. “He's working with us. We could've gotten other people. We could've gotten somebody else. It didn't have to be Dr. Fauci.”
Trump has long been at odds with Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. A veteran of the battle to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, Fauci is now serving his sixth president. And though he is adept at protecting his domain, he has lately been forced to navigate a political climate in which science and expertise have been treated with profound suspicion.
Trump’s approval rating has suffered from what critics have described as an erratic and inattentive handling of the pandemic. That approval rating now stands at about 40 percent, a dangerously low number for a president seeking reelection.
Fauci, by contrast, is not an elected official, but his frank assessments of the pandemic, delivered in a strong Brooklyn accent, have earned him public affection, as well as a Saturday Night Live imitation courtesy of Brad Pitt (that imitation earned an Emmy nomination on Tuesday).
A poll in April found that 76 percent of Americans trusted the information they got from Fauci. He has repeatedly advocated for Americans to practice social distancing measures, wear face masks and to take the coronavirus as a serious threat.
Trump has also recently endorsed such measures, but only reluctantly. Still, he apparently sees no difference between his positions and those of Fauci, describing it as “curious” during Tuesday’s briefing that Americans preferred the avuncular immunologist and Dr. Deborah Birx, another task force member, to the commander-in-chief himself.
On Monday evening, Trump retweeted a message to his 80 million followers on Twitter charging that Fauci had “misled the public” about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and on other virus-related matters.
The next morning, Fauci went on Good Morning America, an appearance during which he described hydroxychloroquine as “not effective.”
It was a question on hydroxychloroquine that prompted Trump to discuss Fauci and insist that the women continued to maintain a “good relationship.”
Tuesday’s turn marks Trump’s continued attempt to show that he is in control as the coronavirus continues to devastate large parts of the nation. But much like the briefings that were a springtime staple, this one turned contentious.
In particular, Trump appeared bothered by a question from CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins about a video Trump had shared — and which Twitter subsequently removed — in which a Houston doctor makes false claims about coronavirus cures and maligns the wearing of face masks.
“Mr. President, the woman that you said was a ‘great doctor’ in that video that you retweeted last night said that ‘masks don’t work’ and there is a cure for COVID-19, both of which health experts say is not true,” Collins said when called on by Trump. “She’s also made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens and that they are trying to create a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious—”
Trump cut her off, saying that he had seen the doctor on television and found her to be “very impressive.”
“I thought her voice was an important voice,” Trump said, “but I know nothing about her.” He then walked out of the briefing room.