A Trump campaign ad uses a clip of Dr. Anthony Fauci praising federal public health officials — saying that he “can’t imagine that … anybody could be doing more” — and makes it seem like Fauci was personally complimenting the president. Fauci himself says the ad lifted his words “out of context.”
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has at times been critical when President Donald Trump has strayed from the guidance of public health officials. For example, Fauci has criticized some states for opening too quickly per Trump’s encouragement. He has also criticized the president’s mixed messages on wearing masks, and his insistence on holding large, densely packed rallies.
The new Trump ad begins with images of a masked Trump leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and returning to the White House, as the narrator says: “President Trump is recovering from the coronavirus and so is America.”
The narrator later says, “President Trump tackled the virus head-on, as leaders should.” It then immediately cuts to a clip of Fauci on camera saying, “I can’t imagine that … anybody could be doing more.”
Levin, March 23: Dr. Fauci, let me ask you a question. You’ve been doing this a long time. Have you ever seen this big of a coordinated response by an administration to such a threat, a health threat?
Fauci: Well, we’ve never had a threat like this and the coordinated response has been, there are a number of adjectives to describe it. Impressive, I think, is one of them. I mean, we’re talking about all hands on deck, is that I, as one of many people on a team, I’m not the only person, since the beginning that we even recognized what this was, I have been devoting almost full time on this, almost full-time.
I’m down at the White House virtually every day with the task force. I’m connected by phone throughout the day and into the night. When I say night, I’m talking 12, 1, 2 in the morning. I’m not the only one. There’s a whole group of us that are doing that. It’s every single day. So I can’t imagine that under any circumstances, that anybody could be doing more. I mean, obviously we’re fighting a formidable enemy, this virus. This virus is a serious issue here.
Though the ad implies Fauci was talking about Trump, Fauci never mentioned the president.
“In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” Fauci said in an Oct. 11 statement to CNN. “The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials.”
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Oct. 12, Fauci said he thought the Trump campaign ought to take the ad down.
“I think it’s really unfortunate and really disappointing that they [officials in the Trump campaign] did that,” Fauci added. “And to take a completely out of context statement and to put it in which is obviously a political campaign ad, I thought was really very disappointing.”
In an Oct. 11 statement to NBC News, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh pushed back, responding: “These are Dr. Fauci’s own words. The video is from a nationally broadcast television interview in which Dr. Fauci was praising the work of the Trump administration. The words spoken are accurate, and directly from Dr. Fauci’s mouth.”
Trump later echoed that, writing on Twitter, “They are indeed Dr. Fauci’s own words. We have done a ‘phenomenal’ job, according to certain governors. Many people agree…And now come the Vaccines & Cures, long ahead of projections!”
They are Fauci’s words, but they are presented in a way to make it seem that Fauci was talking specifically about Trump and his response to the coronavirus when he says, “I can’t imagine … anybody could be doing more.”
However, in the context of the interview — as confirmed by Fauci himself — he is referring to the efforts of federal public health officials. Even though they are members of the Trump administration, that is not the same thing as praising Trump’s response, which has occasionally been at odds with the guidance of public health officials on everything from reopening states safely to wearing masks and holding rallies.
Since early April, public health officials with the Trump administration have been “clear and unambiguous,” as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar recently put it, in support of the public wearing masks when social distancing is not possible. But as we have written, Trump has repeatedly raised doubts about the science, noting that health experts who now advocate public mask-wearing were once opposed to it.
In July, Fauci said the president’s mixed messages on wearing masks were “not helpful.”
“But I can tell you, you’d have to say it’s not helpful if people get signals about not wearing masks when we are trying to get people to universally wear masks,” Fauci said. “My feeling about what we should do with masks is very, very clearly understood by everyone including those in the White House.”
Fauci also took issue with Trump repeatedly promoting the drug hydroxychloroquine, even though members of the administration’s coronavirus task force, including Fauci, warned that scientific studies did not support using the drug to treat COVID-19.
“We know that every single good study — and by good study I mean randomized control study in which the data are firm and believable — has shown that hydroxychloroquine is not effective in the treatment of COVID-19,” Fauci said in July.
As the president encouraged and prodded states to lift restrictions on business closures, Fauci faulted some states for opening too quickly, in contradiction of federal guidelines.
“There are some times when despite the guidelines and the recommendations to open up carefully and prudently, some states skipped over those and just opened up too quickly,” Fauci said in July.
Fauci singled out Florida as an example, saying, “Certainly Florida I know, you know, I think jumped over a couple of checkpoints.”
Fauci also has been critical of Trump’s insistence on holding densely packed campaign rallies, two of them indoors, where many attendees didn’t wear masks.
In mid-June, as Trump was gearing up for an indoor rally in Tulsa, Fauci was asked if he would attend a Trump rally. “I’m in a high-risk category. Personally, I would not. Of course not,” Fauci, who’s 79, said.
In September, “CBS This Morning” host Gayle King asked Fauci if the prevalence of attendees at Trump rallies not wearing masks was frustrating him. Fauci responded, “Well, yes it is. And I’ve said that often. That situation is, we want to set an example, because we know, we know, that when you do four or five typical kind of public health measures — masks, physical distance, avoiding crowds, making sure you do most things outdoors versus indoors — those are the kind of things that turn around surges, and also prevent us from getting surges.”
“Anybody who has been listening to me over the last several months knows that a conversation does not go by where I do not strongly recommend that people wear masks,” he said in an interview on Sept. 30 on ABC News’ “Start Here” podcast.
Fauci has at other times been complimentary of Trump’s willingness to follow the advice of federal public health officials in his administration. For example, on April 13, Fauci said that when he and Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, approached Trump about directing strong mitigation, the president’s response was, “Yes, we’ll do it.”
But as we said, Trump has not always been on the same page with federal public health officials. So when Fauci praises public health officials, saying he couldn’t imagine “anybody could be doing more,” that’s not the same as praising Trump, as the Trump ad suggests.
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