"He has his own style," Fauci said of the president, "but on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say"

By Sean Neumann
March 24, 2020 05:39 PM

In an interview with Science magazine published Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s leading disease experts, opened up about how he’s feeling (“sort of exhausted,” but “good” otherwise) and how he works with President Donald Trump.

A key member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, Fauci has been something of a breakout messenger in communicating guidance as the virus spreads around the country.

Even as the president has been criticized for his own changing rhetoric around the virus — which he sometimes downplays — Fauci is widely respected in the field of public health and has worked with both Republican and Democratic presidents. He has made numerous TV appearances in recent weeks and regularly attends the White House coronavirus updates for the media.

But that exposure has a downside: According to some reports, Trump’s aides have grown wary or even exasperated with Fauci, who has had to contradict the president’s incorrect statements about the coronavirus.

Fauci also went viral on social media for a facial expression he made last week when the president began to talk about the supposed “deep state,” a favorite conspiratorial topic of his rallies.

That, coupled with the historic turnover in the Trump administration, has led to persistent speculation that Trump could fire Fauci at some point — out of disfavor rather than something to do with his job as a health expert.

When reporters have asked about Fauci’s absence at coronavirus briefings, the White House shrugs it off, pointing to the other work he has to do beyond just taking questions from the press.

Speaking with Science, Fauci suggested he was aware of this dynamic but that he was going to keep working. Elsewhere he has said the differences between himself and the president are overstated.

“When you’re dealing with the White House, sometimes you have to say things one, two, three, four times, and then it happens,” Fauci told Science, talking about his advice to Trump officials to stop shaking hands with each other. “So, I’m going to keep pushing.”

“Even though we disagree on some things, he [Trump] listens,” Fauci said. “He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”

But, he noted, he would not use some of Trump’s same language.

“No,” Fauci said when asked if he’d ever call the new coronavirus the “Chinese virus” — a widely denounced term that the president and some allies favor, despite the World Health Organization recommending against labeling illnesses by geography.

Fauci was also asked if he was criticized for his seemingly exasperated or bemused reaction to Trump calling the State Department the “Deep State Department.”

“No comment,” he said.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci
William B. Plowman/NBC/Getty

In his Science interview, Fauci sometimes seemed to express frustration, however.

Interviewer Jon Cohen pointed out that President Trump’s defensive assertion that China could have let others know about the coronavirus three or four months earlier, rather than in January, couldn’t have been possible given that the virus emerged at the end of the year.

Fauci responded: “What do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?”

“The way it happened is that after he made that statement, I told the appropriate people, it doesn’t comport, because two or three months earlier would have been September,” Fauci said. “The next time they sit down with him and talk about what he’s going to say, they will say, ‘By the way, Mr. President, be careful about this and don’t say that.’ But I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.”

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Some questions about the virus response — such as “what could have been done differently?” — are for later, Fauci said.

“We’ll have to wait until it is over and we look back before we can answer that,” he told Science. “It’s almost like the fog of war. After the war is over, you then look back and say, ‘Wow, this plan, as great as it was, didn’t quite work once they started throwing hand grenades at us.’ It really is similar to that. Obviously, testing [for the new coronavirus] is one clear issue that needs to be relooked at. Why were we not able to mobilize on a broader scale? But I don’t think we can do that right now. I think it’s premature. We really need to look forward.”

President Donald Trump in February
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Appearing in a Fox News town hall about the virus on Tuesday, Trump insisted he had a good relationship with Fauci and other experts on the task force.

“We get along very well,” the president said.

“Tony’s extraordinary. I get along with all of them,” Trump said, adding, “They have other things to do …. I don’t think they should be at every press conference.”

To prevent the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages maintaining basic forms of hygiene including careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.

Health officials have also urged people around the country to practice “social distancing” and avoid gatherings and stay home as much as possible to slow new infections.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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