Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump suggests he’ll fire Fauci ‘a little bit after the election’

President Trump’s supporters called on him to fire the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, during a rally in Opa-Locka, Fla., on Nov. 1. (Video: The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

The packed crowd at a South Florida airport erupted into a chant early Monday: “Fire Fauci! Fire Fauci!”

President Trump let the chorus grow louder for almost 20 seconds, turning to both sides as if pondering the request that he dismiss Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert. Finally, he responded.

“Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Trump said, his supporters cheering almost immediately. “I appreciate the advice."

Trump’s suggestion that he might fire Fauci marks another escalation in his months-long feud with the public health expert over the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. It came at a rally where the president defied local coronavirus regulations, as the pandemic continues to worsen across the United States, endangering the president’s reelection hopes.

Fauci on Friday took aim at Trump’s response to the pandemic, suggesting the United States needs an “abrupt change” in its approach to the virus, which has killed at least 230,000 Americans.

“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s not a good situation.”

Asked about Trump’s comments in South Florida, White House spokesman Judd Deere referred to a statement shared over the weekend with The Post in which Deere disapproved of Fauci’s criticisms of Trump’s approach.

“It’s unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force and someone who has praised President Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics,” Deere told The Post at the time.

Catch up on the biggest developments in the pandemic at the end of the day with our free coronavirus newsletter

A spokesman with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where Fauci has served as director since 1984, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment early on Monday.

In the early days of the pandemic, Fauci was the leading voice of the administration’s coronavirus response. Now, nearly eight months into the pandemic, the president has not met with Fauci since early October.

But Fauci and Trump’s professional relationship has ruptured over mask enforcement and social distancing guidelines. While Trump has often attempted to minimize the virus, Fauci has criticized him for regularly refusing to wear a mask in public and to socially distance.

In early October, the president included an out-of-context clip of the doctor in an ad that seemed to show him endorsing the claim that “President Trump tackled the virus head on as leaders should." Fauci demanded the Trump administration remove the clip. “By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me,” he told the Daily Beast.

When the president was still expected to attend two campaign rallies, one in Johnstown, Pa., on Oct. 13 followed by a Des Moines event the next day, just days after being diagnosed with the virus, Fauci criticized the president in another interview.

“That is asking for trouble when you do that,” Fauci said on CNN. “We’ve seen that when you have situations of congregate settings where there are a lot of people without masks, the data speak for themselves. It happens. And now is even more so a worse time to do that because when you look at what’s going on in the United States, it’s really very troublesome.”

Trump has also escalated his attacks on Fauci. In a mid-October call with his campaign staff, the president called Fauci a “disaster," adding that the “people are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.” Despite all of this, the president said firing Fauci would create a “bigger bomb.”

Later that day, he mocked the doctor for criticizing him for holding large rallies where attendees rarely wear masks. Trump compared his medical guidance with an unsuccessful ceremonial first pitch he threw at a Washington Nationals game in July.

“Actually, Tony’s pitching arm is far more accurate than his prognostications,” Trump wrote, mistakenly suggesting that Fauci’s advice against wearing a mask in the early days of the pandemic was his way of downplaying the virus.

In Miami, Trump again returned to that theme. At the packed rally, which violated curfew and social distancing rules of Miami-Dade County, he argued again that Fauci was the one who peddled incorrect information about the pandemic.

“Now, he’s been wrong in a lot,” Trump told the crowd. “He’s a nice man though. He’s been wrong in a lot.”