Trump’s #FireFauci retweet spurs a cycle of outrage and a White House denial

The president’s retweet triggered tens of thousands of tweets throughout Monday morning with the #FireFauci hashtag, generating worries even from lawmakers and supporters. Fauci, who has served in his role since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, has an approval rating of nearly 80 percent among both Republicans and Democrats, a sign of rare bipartisan credibility during a global crisis that has shut down the economy and scrambled an election year.

By Monday afternoon, the White House issued a statement blaming the media for the speculation that Trump ignited over the weekend.

“This media chatter is ridiculous — President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci. The President’s tweet clearly exposed media attempts to maliciously push a falsehood about his China decision in an attempt to rewrite history,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement. “Dr. Fauci has been and remains a trusted advisor to President Trump.”

In a Monday evening news briefing, Trump himself shrugged off the furor, disavowed the hashtag and said he wasn’t firing the nation’s top infectious-diseases doctor.

“I like him. He is terrific,” Trump said. Asked whether he noticed the #FireFauci hashtag in his retweet, Trump said, “I notice everything“ and called it “somebody’s opinion.“

“Not everybody’s happy with Anthony,” Trump said. “Not everybody‘s happy with — everybody.“

Fauci himself spoke near the top of Monday’s briefing to clarify that Trump followed his advice once he delivered it.

In a later appearance on C-SPAN, Fauci said the president had told him they were “fine“ after the tweets. Asked whether Trump could fire him, Fauci replied that the president could remove him from the task force but had “no intention of doing that.” Fauci didn’t address whether Trump could dismiss him from the National Institutes of Health.

A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force’s discussions said that “at end of the day, the only person’s reaction that matters is the president’s” when it comes to conservative criticism of Fauci and that the president is unlikely to remove the doctor anytime soon.

“Remember this isn’t the first time that the president has disagreed directionally with some of the comments of Dr. Fauci. I doubt it will be the last,” the person said. “We’re in a situation of the type which we haven’t seen before, so I can’t judge the personalities, so maybe the president goes half-cocked and says, ‘Let’s get rid of Fauci,’ but he hasn’t done it yet and I don’t think it’s likely to happen in the near future.”

The relationship between Fauci, the cautious doctor wary of making bold pronouncements, and a hyperbole-prone president grasping for solutions has been the subject of much speculation since the nation’s coronavirus response ramped up in earnest last month.

Fauci has at times appeared to contradict the president, tamping down talk of a quick cure or a rapid reopening of the nation. But he has also seemingly sought to stay mostly in line behind the president, especially at the White House’s daily briefings, where reporters often ask Fauci to weigh in on the president’s plans and predictions.

Perhaps the biggest break between Fauci and Trump came over the weekend amid a flurry of reporting that the White House failed to heed early warnings about the spread of coronavirus overseas. The doctor conceded in a CNN interview that “if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives.”

That schism and others, however slight, have made Fauci a target for Trump’s allies in conservative media circles that value lockstep loyalty to the president. But that animosity has yet to trickle down to GOP voters, with whom Fauci enjoys an approval rating well above that of the president, nor has it spread widely among Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“Tony Fauci is one of the finest physicians and Americans you will ever meet,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “I’ve known him for over a dozen years. His wife was in my college class at Georgetown. She was a nursing student when I was pre-med, I have all the faith in the world in Tony Fauci.”

“He’s gotten the Medal of Freedom,” Barrasso said. “I don’t know who gave it to him, but Obama or Bush or somebody gave him the [Presidential] Medal of Freedom already. I said, ‘You ought to get the medal of freedom.’ Well guess what. He already has it!”