WASHINGTON — After several days spent weathering attacks from White House officials, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci hit back on Wednesday, calling recent efforts to discredit him “bizarre” and a hindrance to the government’s ability to communicate information about the coronavirus pandemic.
“I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview with The Atlantic published on Wednesday, speaking of recent attempts by President Trump’s aides to undermine him. “I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it’s only reflecting negatively on them.”
It was the latest salvo in a war that has broken out in the middle of a pandemic between the government’s top infectious disease expert and a White House that has never evolved beyond the bare-knuckle tactics of the 2016 campaign.
On Wednesday, Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s top trade adviser, published a brazen op-ed article in USA Today describing Dr. Fauci as “wrong about everything.” Over the weekend, another of Mr. Trump’s top advisers shared a mocking cartoon that portrayed Dr. Fauci as a leaky faucet. Other White House officials have targeted Dr. Fauci by distributing opposition research-style documents to reporters that detail what they say are his mistakes.
All the while, White House officials — including the president and the press secretary — assert in the face of the evidence that there is no concerted effort to attack Dr. Fauci.
“We’re all on the same team, including Dr. Fauci,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Wednesday as he left the White House for Atlanta. When he was asked about Mr. Navarro’s choice to go around White House channels to publish the op-ed article in USA Today, the president added that Mr. Navarro “shouldn’t be doing that.”
Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One that he had not read the piece, but criticized Mr. Navarro’s decision to publish it without allowing other officials to vet the content.
“Peter Navarro’s statement or op-ed or whatever you want to classify it as was an independent action that was a violation of well-established protocols that was not supported overtly or covertly by anybody in the West Wing,” Mr. Meadows said. “I think Peter Navarro spoke for himself.”
Dr. Fauci, 79, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a post he has held since 1984, is no stranger to criticism. He oversaw much of the government’s response to the AIDS epidemic, weathering criticism from activists like Larry Kramer, who called him a “murderer” and an “incompetent idiot.”
Mr. Trump’s administration presents a different challenge. Because Dr. Fauci is a career civil servant, his job is not in jeopardy, and it is unlikely that Mr. Trump can completely exile him, given his emergence as the government’s most credible voice on the pandemic. He has not briefed Mr. Trump in weeks, preferring to work with Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who helps coordinate the administration’s coronavirus response, or to send his messages through Vice President Mike Pence.
Without directly criticizing the president — both men have emphasized their personal fondness for each other — Dr. Fauci has begun fighting back.
On Monday, he met with Mr. Meadows to discuss his ability to speak about the virus on television — his broadcast appearances have been sharply curbed in recent weeks by Mr. Meadows and members of the communications staff. And in The Atlantic interview, Dr. Fauci complained that the administration’s actions had made it difficult for health officials to communicate accurate information.
“It distracts from what I hope would be the common effort of getting this thing under control, rather than this back-and-forth distraction, which just doesn’t make any sense,” Dr. Fauci said. “We’ve got to almost reset this and say, ‘OK, let’s stop this nonsense.’ We’ve got to figure out, how can we get our control over this now, and, looking forward, how can we make sure that next month, we don’t have another example of California, Texas, Florida and Arizona?”
He added, “So rather than these games people are playing, let’s focus on that.”
In the interview, Dr. Fauci discussed the op-ed article by Mr. Navarro, which had the stark headline, “Anthony Fauci Has Been Wrong About Everything I Have Interacted With Him On.” In the piece, Mr. Navarro presented what White House officials have been saying privately about Dr. Fauci, and what Mr. Trump has said publicly: They like Dr. Fauci personally, but he has made mistakes.
Dr. Fauci responded with bewilderment. “I can’t explain Peter Navarro,” he said. “He’s in a world by himself.”
The White House sought to distance itself from the attack by Mr. Navarro, but so far has not attacked the substance of his piece. And officials declined to comment when one of the president’s closest advisers, Dan Scavino, posted a mocking cartoon of Dr. Fauci to social media.
Tension between Mr. Navarro and Dr. Fauci has been brewing since the early days of the pandemic this year. In a coronavirus task force meeting that Mr. Navarro asked to attend, the two argued over the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, a drug that Mr. Trump has promoted as a cure for the virus.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 15, 2020
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
What’s the best material for a mask?
- Scientists around the country have tried to identify everyday materials that do a good job of filtering microscopic particles. In recent tests, HEPA furnace filters scored high, as did vacuum cleaner bags, fabric similar to flannel pajamas and those of 600-count pillowcases. Other materials tested included layered coffee filters and scarves and bandannas. These scored lower, but still captured a small percentage of particles.
Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?
- A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?
- The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.
What is pandemic paid leave?
- The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
- So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
- Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
- A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How can I protect myself while flying?
- If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
What should I do if I feel sick?
- If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
Mr. Navarro, an economist by training, has since defended his credentials when it comes to sparring with Dr. Fauci over possible medical treatments.
“Doctors disagree about things all the time. My qualifications in terms of looking at the science is that I’m a social scientist,” Mr. Navarro told CNN’s John Berman in April. “I have a Ph.D. And I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.”
Mr. Navarro is known to go around official channels to make sure his opinions are aired. In his op-ed article, he wrote that “I confronted him with scientific studies providing evidence of safety and efficacy,” and he promoted a new study that he said showed a 50 percent reduction in the mortality rate when the medicine was used. Medical experts have criticized that study, published by the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, as incomplete.
Mr. Navarro also wrote that he had warned officials in late January of the threat posed by the coronavirus, while Dr. Fauci had “fought against the president’s courageous decision” to close American borders to travelers from China.
It is true that a memo that Mr. Navarro wrote outlining the threat of the virus was the earliest high-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing during the early days of the administration’s response. It is also true that Dr. Fauci was initially skeptical of closing the country’s borders, over concerns such an action could limit the movements of doctors and other health professionals trying to contain the disease. But by the end of January, Dr. Fauci and other public health experts were on board with the decision.
Despite the continuing attacks by administration advisers and the attempts to limit his television appearances, Dr. Fauci has not stopped other public appearances. On Tuesday, he urged Georgetown University students to trust public health experts over politicians, without criticizing the administration he works for directly.
“You can trust respected medical authorities. I believe I’m one of them. So, I think you can trust me,” Dr. Fauci said. “I would stick with respected medical authorities who have a track record of telling the truth, who have a track record of giving information and policy and recommendations based on scientific evidence and good data.”
He added, “Don’t get involved in any of the political nonsense,” calling it a “waste of time.”
Noah Weiland contributed reporting.