Story at a glance
- A rift between the White House and Anthony Fauci has fueled speculation about whether President Trump would, or could, fire Fauci.
- Federal law does not allow the president to fire the director of the NIAID directly, Partnership for Public Service President Max Stier told CNN.
- Stier added, however, it is clearly the case that Trump can sideline Fauci.
Tensions between the Trump administration and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), have been reportedly escalating in recent days as the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. continues to worsen.
On Saturday, a White House official sent media outlets a long list of “mistakes” they said Fauci made over the course of the pandemic, noting that several White House officials were concerned about the number of times Fauci has been “wrong on things,” according to a statement reported by The Washington Post.
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Meanwhile, the White House’s deputy chief of staff for communications, Dan Scavino, shared a cartoon via Facebook Sunday depicting Fauci as a faucet flushing the U.S. economy down the drain due to his health guidance on the pandemic.
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Fauci’s frank assessments of the outbreak have sometimes clashed with the Trump administration’s messaging that has often sought to downplay the severity of the virus in the U.S. and has pushed for a reopening of the economy.
The rift has fueled speculation about whether Trump would fire Fauci, or if he even has the authority to do so.
The technical answer is no, according to CNN.
Federal law does not allow the president to fire the director of the NIAID directly, Partnership for Public Service President Max Stier told CNN.
“The President could not fire Fauci without cause,” Stier told CNN in an interview Monday.
“There are civil service protections for career federal employees that prevent them from being removed or demoted for political reasons,” he added.
Stier said if the president wanted to oust Fauci, he would have to go through the proper chain of command. In this case, it would be the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Even if the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar or National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins wanted to terminate Fauci, he has the right to appeal.
“So he would have to be given, first, notice of what the allegation was. It would have to be misconduct or failure to follow orders or whatever else it might be,” Stier told CNN. “Then you have an opportunity to respond. And if the decision was still made to fire him, he could go to the Merit Systems Protection Board and ultimately to a court to claim that he was fired in violation of the civil service rules.”
Stier added, however, it is clearly the case Trump can sideline Fauci.
“He doesn’t have to listen to his advice, nor does he have to include him in the task force or otherwise allow him to be fundamentally in a deciding role,” he said.
Last week, Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, told the Financial Times he hasn’t seen Trump at the White House since early June and hasn’t briefed him on the pandemic in two months.
President Trump, meanwhile, told Fox News last week that Fauci is a “nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.”
On Monday, Trump sought to downplay any rifts with the infectious disease expert who has served four decades in his current post, saying he has a “very good relationship” with Fauci.
The administration’s recent push to undermine Fauci has been criticized by public health experts and others who have leaped to the infectious disease expert’s defense.
Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, tweeted, “His track record isn’t perfect. It’s just better than anyone else I know Sidelining Dr. Fauci makes the federal response worse. And it’s the American people who suffer.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Monday slammed the White House’s response.
“The president’s disgusting attempt to pass the buck by blaming the top infectious disease expert in the country — whose advice he repeatedly ignored and Joe Biden consistently implored him to take — is yet another horrible and revealing failure of leadership as the tragic death toll continues to needlessly grow,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
Despite the broad support of Fauci’s professional efforts during the pandemic, Trump is potentially still weighing the option of firing Fauci following a his comments at a campaign rally in Florida.
CNN reports that following Trump’s criticism of the media’s portrayal of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crowd in Florida began chanting “Fire Fauci,” to which Trump responded:”Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Trump said to cheers. “I appreciate the advice.”
This rhetoric continues to worsen relations between Fauci and the White House. Recently, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere accused Fauci of “playing politics” by critiquing the Trump administration’s response to the virus ahead of the election.
“As a member of the Task Force, Dr. Fauci has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy, but he’s not done that, instead choosing to criticize the President in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the President’s opponent — exactly what the American people have come to expect from The Swamp,” Deere told reporters.
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