Fauci Says Trump Campaign Ad Uses His Words ‘Completely Out of Context’
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, whose blunt public health advice has frequently been at odds with President Trump, said on Tuesday that a Trump campaign ad quoted him “completely out of context” by incorrectly implying that he was praising the administration’s coronavirus response.
But in an interview, he said he saw no “rift” between him and the president.
The comments by Dr. Fauci, a career government scientist who has advised six presidents and has run the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, were his sharpest criticism yet of the president, though he carefully framed them as an attack on the campaign, not Mr. Trump.
“That ad clearly implies strongly that I’m endorsing a political candidate, and I have not given them my permission to do that,” Dr. Fauci said, adding that in his five decades of public life, he had never been involved in partisan politics. “And in addition to that, the quote that they took is completely out of context.”
He also warned that the campaign “may turn off a lot of people” by airing an ad to which he is so vocally opposed.
The Trump campaign released the new ad last week, after the president was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center following treatment for Covid-19. The ad uses an interview clip to make it seem as though Dr. Fauci is praising the administration’s pandemic response.
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“President Trump tackled the virus head on, as leaders should,” the ad declares, before switching to a shot of Dr. Fauci saying, “I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more.”
Dr. Fauci said that comment was made “months and months ago,” in reference to the hard work of the White House coronavirus task force. He declined to say what he actually thought about the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, saying, “I’m not going to go there right now.”
He has said he wanted the ad taken down. The campaign said it would not oblige.
“These are Dr. Fauci’s own words,” Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “The video is from a nationally broadcast television interview in which Dr. Fauci was praising the work of the Trump administration. The words spoken are accurate and directly from Dr. Fauci’s mouth.”
At the outset of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci was often by the president’s side at news conferences, joined by Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator. But the two appear to have been sidelined by Dr. Scott W. Atlas, the president’s new science adviser, a radiologist who has argued that the role of the government is not to stamp out the virus but to protect its most vulnerable citizens as Covid-19 takes its course.
That last idea appears to have taken hold in the White House, where two senior administration officials on Monday embraced a declaration arguing that the authorities should allow the coronavirus to spread naturally among young, healthy people while protecting the vulnerable — a heavily disputed approach that argues “herd immunity” should be achieved naturally rather than through a vaccine.
The officials, both speaking anonymously on a conference call with reporters, cited an Oct. 4 petition titled The Great Barrington Declaration, which argued against lockdowns and called for reopening businesses and schools.
“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short- and long-term public health,” the declaration states, adding: “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”
The declaration has more than 9,000 signatories from all over the world, its website says, though most of the names are not public. The document grew out of a meeting hosted by the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian-leaning research organization. Its lead authors include Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at Stanford University, where Dr. Atlas is a senior fellow.
“The plan is endorsing what the president’s policy has been for months,” one official said on the call.
Public health experts generally agree that further lockdowns are not optimal and can indeed cause harm to economic and physical health. But experts say herd immunity is not and should never be a strategy, because it could involve hundreds of thousand of avoidable deaths.
“I think it’s reasonable to say that we need to consider the harms from shutdowns. We need to better protect the vulnerable,” said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I think this idea of completely putting the vulnerable in a bubble is not feasible, even if it were ethical.”
In a speech to the College of American Pathologists on Tuesday, Dr. Fauci said the administration did not want to “shut down the country again.” But he also said he was deeply concerned about the way the virus was spreading and the current uptick in cases around the country, a point he reiterated in the interview.
“We’re trying to get control over the spread of infection, and we’re not doing it adequately enough,” he said, adding that the situation was going to become “more difficult” as the weather grows colder and people move inside, where the virus spreads more efficiently than it does outdoors.
As for the ad, Dr. Fauci said he blamed the campaign, not “the president as a person.” He said he and Mr. Trump last spoke about a week ago, while the president was recovering from his infection. He said Mr. Trump was not seeking his medical advice, but he would not disclose the topic of their conversation.