Fauci says Trump listened to health experts' initial advice to shutdown the U.S. economy and call for social distancing guidelines

By Sean Neumann
April 13, 2020 08:12 PM
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Dr. Anthony Fauci says President Donald Trump listened to his initial recommendations to shut down the United States in an effort to slow spread of the coronavirus and that he isn’t being forced or asked to explain to the media that Trump had listened to his expert opinion then.

“The first and only time that Dr. [Deborah] Birx and I went in and formally made a recommendation to the president to actually have a shutdown in the sense of strong mitigation, we discussed it,” Fauci, 79, said. “Obviously there would be concerns by some, and in fact, that might have some negative consequences. Nonetheless, the president listened to the recommendation.”

Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious disease, also said that Trump listened to him and Dr. Birx, the president’s coronavirus task force coordinator, when they recommended extending the U.S. shutdown another 30 days through the end of April.

A reporter asked if Fauci was explaining himself on his own volition.

“Everything I do is voluntary. Please, don’t even imply that,” Fauci replied.

President Trump, 73, brought Fauci up to the podium two and a half minutes into his daily coronavirus press briefing and asked the federal health official to address the press.

Fauci gave a quick update on the coronavirus and then explained his comments during a CNN interview on Sunday, in which he said sooner action to implement a nationwide social distancing lockdown would have prevented deaths.

“Obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” Fauci told CNN on Sunday.

“Obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different,” Fauci later said. “But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”

On Monday, Fauci asserted that he was only answering a hypothetical question and that his use of the word “pushback” was “a poor choice of words.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to the media on Monday during the White House’s daily coronavirus press briefing.

Trump told reporters that he and Fauci are on the same page and have been throughout the pandemic, despite the fact he retweeted a tweet on Sunday that called for Fauci’s firing.

“Time to #FireFauci…,” a tweet that Trump shared on Sunday read.

Before Monday’s press briefing, Trump administration spokesman Hogan Gidley told PEOPLE in a statement, “President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci.”

Trump confirmed Monday that he did read the tweet said, “Time to #FireFauci…,” but he retweeted it anyway.

“I retweeted somebody — I don’t know,” the president said.

Later, Trump asserted the tweet was just “somebody’s opinion.”

Trump did not answer a reporter’s question about him retweeting that somebody’s opinion to his nearly 77 million Twitter followers.

“I like controversy,” Trump said at one point while defending the retweet.

The explanations from Trump and Fauci opened a a tense and hyper-defensive press briefing in which the president lashed out at reporters and chastised the media for being “fake news.”

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At one point, Trump paused the briefing about the pandemic to show a video compilation touting his own success and framing the media as having downplayed the virus, instead of himself.

Trump once called the growing worry about the coronavirus a Democratic “hoax” designed to damage his presidency.

Reporters immediately questioned the president about the video presentation, with ABC News White House correspondent Jon Karl noting that the video looked a lot like a “campaign ad.”

After about 40 minutes, the president eventually gave detailed updates on the coronavirus and the country’s current status in managing the pandemic. Those crucial updates typically open Trump’s coronavirus briefings.

Donald Trump, Dr. Anthony Fauci
Win McNamee/Getty Images

At least 23,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus, according to a New York Times tracker. In the U.S., there have been at least 579,001 confirmed cases of the virus as of Monday afternoon, with 23,477 coronavirus-related deaths.

Karl asked Trump whether he would also listen to Dr. Fauci and other federal health experts when considering reopening the U.S. economy and relaxing social distancing guidelines.

“I will absolutely take their advice,” Trump said.

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. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.