Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert and one of the nation’s most popular public officials, took issue Sunday with a decision by the Trump campaign to feature him in an advertisement without his consent and said it had misrepresented his comments.
“I was totally surprised,” Fauci said. “The use of my name and my words by the GOP campaign was done without my permission, and the actual words themselves were taken out of context, based on something that I said months ago regarding the entire effort of the task force.”
CNN first reported Fauci’s displeasure with the campaign ad.
The spot seeks to use Trump’s illness with COVID-19 and apparent recovery to improve the negative image many Americans have of his handling of the coronavirus.
“I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more,” the ad shows Fauci saying — though in fact he was talking about the broader government effort.
Fauci, who said he had never publicly endorsed a political candidate in decades of public work, has long had an uneasy relationship with President Donald Trump. Just a little more than a week ago, he clashed with his boss over his position on mask-wearing.
In his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump claimed that Fauci had initially said “masks are not good — then he changed his mind.” When Biden said wearing masks could save tens of thousands of lives, Trump contended that “Dr. Fauci said the opposite.”
In fact, in the early days of the pandemic, Fauci and other health experts discouraged the general public from rushing out to buy masks because they were worried about shortages for health workers. Their position changed when it became clear that asymptomatic transmission was spreading the virus.
Fauci may favor measured language, but his criticisms of the White House — and, implicitly, the man in the Oval Office — over the handling of the pandemic have not gone unnoticed — including by hard-core Trump supporters who claim he is part of a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine the president.
On Friday, Fauci called the White House ceremony announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court a “superspreader event.”
“It was in a situation where people were crowded together and not wearing masks,” he said. “The data speak for themselves.”
Fauci remains highly popular with the American public, a fact that appears to have made a big impression on Trump.
Given the clashes with the temperamental leader, and after some White House officials launched a campaign to discredit Fauci, speculation swirled that his time as one of the leaders in the pandemic fight might be running out, even if the president can’t fire him directly because he is not a political appointee.
On Sunday, Trump sounded unperturbed by the health official’s protests about the ad.
“They are indeed Dr. Fauci’s own words,” Trump said on Twitter.