WASHINGTON — President Trump on Sunday suggested he would fire Anthony Fauci following the presidential election.
As a crowd at a Pennsylvania rally chanted “Fire Fauci,” Trump paused and then responded: “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until after the election … he’s a nice man, but he’s been wrong on a lot.”
Trump’s words represent a remarkable escalation of hostilities less than two days before the presidential election. While the president has feuded with Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious diseases researcher, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, he has never directly threatened to dismiss him. Fauci, 79, has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
Threatening to dismiss a top government researcher on the eve of a presidential election is likely an unprecedented move in American politics. And while it’s not clear whether Trump can legally dismiss Fauci himself, since Fauci is not a political appointee, the president is certainly empowered to remove him from the White House coronavirus task force. There’s also little doubt that the president or a political appointee in his health department could reassign him, as occurred earlier in 2020 with Rick Bright, a scientist who ran a vaccine development agency until his reassignment in May.
The pledge to dismiss Fauci comes amid a broader effort by the White House and the Trump campaign to dismiss the severity of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. has recorded roughly 80,000 new cases and nearly 1,000 deaths daily in the past week.
Even in the face of the escalating case count and death toll, Trump has continued to insist that the United States is “rounding the turn” in its Covid-19 response. In the wake of his own bout with the disease in early October, Trump has told Americans that they shouldn’t fear the coronavirus, given the availability of new therapeutics and forthcoming vaccines.
One of the Covid-19 therapies Trump received is an experimental treatment unavailable to Americans outside the context of a clinical trial. And despite Trump’s insistence that a vaccine approval would likely come before Election Day, no drug company has submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration requesting an emergency vaccine authorization.
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has sharply criticized Trump for his continued hostility toward Fauci and his broader skepticism for basic facts spoken by government scientists. Biden has said that if he’s declared the winner, one of his first calls would go to Fauci, asking him to continue his government service.
“Last night Trump said he was going to fire Dr. Fauci,” Biden said Monday at a rally in Cleveland. “Isn’t that wonderful? I’ve got a better idea — elect me and I’m going to hire Dr. Fauci. And we’re going to fire Donald Trump!”
Fauci did not immediately return STAT’s request for comment.
Helen Branswell contributed reporting.