“I was surprised by his answer, actually,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “To me, it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”
Speaking to Bartiromo for a segment set to air Thursday morning, the president said he “totally” disagrees with Fauci on schools.
“We have to get the schools open,” Trump said. “We have to open our country. Now, we want to do it safely, but we also want to do it as quickly as possible. We can’t keep going on like this. You’re having bedlam already in the streets. You can’t do this.”
Trump’s comments mark yet another tense moment in his relationship with Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the most outspoken member of the White House coronavirus task force.
Past public disagreements between Trump and officials serving in his administration have not ended amicably. Take, for example, the president’s clashes with former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, former attorney general Jeff Sessions, and former national security adviser John Bolton, among others. The spats frequently led to more public disparagement by Trump followed by an eventual dismissal or resignation. But in the case of Fauci, who holds no policymaking position in the government, Trump could simply ignore him rather than work with him.
On Wednesday, Trump’s remarks joined a growing chorus of criticism that erupted from the right following Fauci’s Senate testimony a day earlier, during which he warned that reopening the country too soon could lead to avoidable “suffering and death.” But it was Fauci’s comments about schools that appeared to particularly upset critics, including Trump, who has suggested in recent weeks that places of learning should reopen along with the rest of the country.
“We really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children,” Fauci said Tuesday in response to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who called keeping schools closed “a huge mistake” and argued they should reopen because the virus appears to have less dangerous consequences for children.
Fauci went on to note there have been a number of cases of children with the coronavirus who also developed a perplexing inflammatory syndrome.
“We better be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects,” he said. “I am very careful, and hopefully humble, in knowing that I don’t know everything about this disease.”
On Wednesday, Trump had a different take.
“They should open the schools, absolutely,” he said at the White House. The virus, he continued, has “had very little impact on young people. And I think that if you’re an instructor, if you’re a teacher, a professor, and you’re over a certain age — like, let’s say, 65 or maybe even, if you want to be conservative, 60 — perhaps you want to stay out for a little while longer.”
Trump added, “I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed.”
Minutes later, the conversation shifted to Fauci after Trump was asked if he shared the scientist’s concerns about reopening the economy too quickly.
“Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation,” Trump responded.
When pressed by a reporter about whether the comment was a suggestion that Fauci’s Senate testimony differed from what he has been telling Trump, the president did not elaborate. Instead, he criticized the answer Fauci gave Tuesday regarding schools and stressed “the only thing that would be acceptable” is professors, teachers and other educational staff over a certain age not going back immediately.
In his sit-down with Bartiromo, which was taped Wednesday, Trump took a more diplomatic approach to addressing the conflicting opinions, at least based on an excerpt released in advance.
“Anthony is a good person, a very good person,” Trump said, before acknowledging he and Fauci have had disagreements in the past over the country’s coronavirus response.
Aside from differing views on a timeline for reopening, Fauci hasn’t shied away from publicly countering Trump’s misstatements about the virus.
When Trump was actively touting the effectiveness of anti-malarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as potential treatments for the coronavirus, Fauci repeatedly tempered the president’s glowing praises by emphasizing the drugs were still being studied. At one point in early April, Trump appeared to be so fed up with reporters asking for Fauci’s opinion on the untested treatment that he blocked him from answering a question during a news briefing. A few weeks later, Trump retweeted a critical tweet about Fauci that contained the hashtag “#FireFauci,” prompting the White House to later issue a statement saying there were no plans to fire him.
Still, Fauci has continued speaking out, prompting Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) to ask during Tuesday’s hearing if reports characterizing his relationship with Trump as “confrontational” are true.
“No, there is certainly not a confrontational relationship between me and the president,” Fauci said. “As I mentioned many times, I give advice and opinion based on evidence-based scientific information. He hears that, he respects it. … In no way, in my experience over the last several months, has there been any confrontational relationship between us.”