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The Memo: Fauci at odds with Trump on virus

The Memo: Fauci at odds with Trump on virus
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Anthony FauciAnthony FauciSunday shows preview: Washington prepares for an inauguration and impeachment; coronavirus surges across the US Overnight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults 'broken' system for insulin price hikes Should there be a 'Secretary of Thought'? MORE delivered a simple message Tuesday: mission not yet accomplished.

The nation’s top expert on infectious diseases spoke in a measured tone and was careful not to personalize his differences with President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE.

But he left little doubt about his unease with the president’s bullish view of the coronavirus crisis as he testified remotely before the Senate Health Committee.

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And on some points, Fauci did flatly contradict Trump.

The president has argued in recent days that the threat from the coronavirus will simply “go away” even in the absence of a vaccine.

Not so, said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“That is just not going to happen,” he said. “It’s a highly transmissible virus. It is likely there will be virus somewhere on this planet that will likely get back to us.”

Fauci also told Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Biden to seek minimum wage in COVID-19 proposal MORE (I-Vt.) that the true death toll from COVID-19 was likely higher than official data suggests.

But the broader difference lay in Fauci’s tone. 

Trump and others in his administration have talked up a rapid recovery from the crisis, both in terms of public health and the economy.

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Vice President Pence recently told Geraldo Rivera on the latter’s radio show that the nation could have put the worst of the crisis behind it by Memorial Day. The president’s son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerElection misinformation dropped 73 percent following Trump's suspension from Twitter: research The Hill's 12:30 Report: What to expect for inauguration Secret Service renting K a month apartment near Ivanka and Jared for bathrooms, office space: report MORE has said that the nation could be “really rocking again” by July. 

Last month, Trump appeared to give support to protesters who were pushing back against tight restrictions in their states. His position on state reopenings has grown more complicated since then, but his overall emphasis is less cautious than Fauci’s.

“The consequences could be really serious” if states reopen prematurely, Fauci said Tuesday. 

He emphasized that this, in turn, could derail any chances of the economic recovery upon which so many people — including Trump — have pinned their hopes. Moving too fast, he said, would lead to “some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery.” 

The likely effects of Tuesday’s testimony on Fauci’s relationship with Trump remain to be seen. Fauci testified from home, where he is self-quarantining, though news emerged later Tuesday that he had been cleared to return to the White House.

Trump has a history of sidelining people whom he sees as taking the spotlight away from him. Various past members of his administration — Stephen Bannon, Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTillerson: 'We squandered the best opportunity we had on North Korea' State Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies Lawmakers express concern about lack of young people in federal workforce MORE, John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE and Anthony ScaramucciAnthony ScaramucciKelly says Trump can't admit to making mistakes: 'His manhood is at issue here' C-SPAN's Steve Scully completes his three month suspension CNN's Smerconish lauds Trump on ,000 relief checks: 'Most effective thing he's done' post election MORE among them — have suffered some version of that fate.

Fauci has often seemed to tread a fine line during this crisis, seeking to neither burn his bridges with Trump nor erode his own storied scientific reputation. On Tuesday, he denied that his relationship with Trump was confrontational, in response to a question from Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerNikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid McConnell has said he thinks Trump committed impeachable offenses: report Top Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win MORE (R-Ga.). 

“I give advice, opinion based on evidence-based scientific information. He hears that. He respects it,” Fauci said of the president.

Be that as it may, the dangers to Trump from his testimony are clear. 

Fauci’s voice is one of the most trusted in the nation on a huge issue where the president has fared badly with Election Day six months away.

A new CNN-SSRS poll released Tuesday morning, just hours before Fauci’s testimony began, underlined the point.

Trump’s overall approval rating was tepid but not disastrous: 45 percent of adults approved and 51 percent disapproved. But his rating on his handling of COVID-19 was worse, with 42 percent approving and 55 percent disapproving. 

Adding further problems for the president, Fauci leaves him far behind when it comes to the crucial area of public trust.

The CNN poll indicated that 67 percent of respondents believe Fauci to be trustworthy in the information he provides. This figure dwarfed the 36 percent who deem Trump credible on the virus. A full 62 percent said they generally don’t trust what Trump says on the subject.

A key part of the Trump administration’s narrative also came under attack by two Republicans on Tuesday. 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (Utah), the only Senate Republican to vote to convict Trump in impeachment proceedings earlier this year, took issue with positive assessments of the testing procedures that have been put in place to combat COVID-19. 

“I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever,” he said.

The Health panel’s chairman, Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.), who was speaking from home after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, took a similar tack. 

“What our country has done so far in testing is impressive, but not nearly enough,” Alexander said.

Democrats seized on the day’s events to buttress their case against Trump. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPorter loses seat on House panel overseeing financial sector OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters DeVos mulled unilateral student loan forgiveness as COVID-19 wracked economy: memo MORE (D-Mass.) asserted that “the president needs to stop pretending that if he just ignores bad news, it will go away. … The time for magical thinking is over, here.”

At a White House briefing on Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump’s handling of the crisis.

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She said, with respect to reopening, that “he has encouraged states to follow the guidelines.”

She added, “I do want to stress, as the president has stressed, that we do want to reopen this country, because there are consequences that run the other way when we stay closed down.”

But the difference in tone between the administration and the nation’s top expert is hard to paper over.

On Monday, Trump claimed that, when it came to testing, the nation had “met the moment” and “prevailed.”

Fauci was clear in his belief that America has not — in terms of testing or in the bigger battle against the pandemic.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.