The nation’s foremost public health expert, and a crucial player in outlining a national strategy to battle COVID-19, has been under heavy criticism lately from the Trump administration. However, an excoriation of Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday leveled by Trump administration trade adviser Peter Navarro in a USA Today op-ed wasn’t sanctioned by the White House, according to the administration’s press office.
“The Peter Navarro op-ed didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone,” wrote Alyssa Farah, the White House’s communications director, via Twitter on Wednesday.
Farah wrote that Trump “values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his Administration.”
Navarro’s op-ed characterized Fauci as ineffective in helping to manage the deadly viral epidemic that has infected some 13.3 million people worldwide, with a quarter of that total from the U.S. alone, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The trade adviser said he’d only listen to Fauci’s advise “with skepticism and caution,” and blamed the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for not reacting quickly enough to the pandemic back in January.
“So when you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution,” Navarro wrote.
The apparent tussle between a trade adviser and a public health expert, who boasts decades of experience in the handling of emerging threats to public health, to many underscores the perception of rift between the Trump administration and Fauci.
Despite Farah’s apparent censure of Navarro’s unsanctioned op-ed, it comes after the Trump administration’s own criticism of the health-policy expert, including the release of statements to the Washington Post over the weekend that carried a similar critical tone. Materials provided to the newspaper by an administration source have been characterized as resembling opposition research.
Reports, including by the Post, have indicated that Trump and Fauci’s relationship has frayed since cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise, with the Financial Times quoting the public health official this weekend as revealing he hadn’t discussed the pandemic with Trump since June 2.
During a Fox News interview last week with Sean Hannity, Trump described Fauci as “a nice man,” but one who has “made a lot of mistakes.”
The Wall Street Journal noted that public health experts and Democrats have been rallying behind Fauci (Joe Biden has said one of his first calls, if he’s elected in November, would be to Fauci, asking him to stay on), saying the attacks are irresponsible, after the White House’s compilation and dissemination of its list of past Fauci comments about the virus with which the Trump team apparently sought to cast doubt on his judgment.
Indeed, in a Sunday tweet, Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, called the Trump team’s criticisms of Fauci in the midst of the public health crisis “nuclear grade bananas.”
Asked on Wednesday if he approved of the op-ed Navarro wrote in USA Today, Trump, in comments to reporters, had this to say:
“ ‘That’s Peter Navarro, but I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci.’ ”
Sam Stein, the politics editor at the Daily Beast, tweeted that he was told by a White House official that Navarro’s piece on Fauci was unsanctioned. “He does that,” Stein quoted a source as having said, suggesting that the trade adviser is known for issuing unsanctioned comments.