GOP senators tell Trump to make Fauci face of government's coronavirus response

Senate Republicans on Tuesday urged President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE to get Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert, more involved as the face of the federal response to the coronavirus, according to lawmakers who attended a closed-door lunch with the president.

Senators told Trump that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has done a great job so far and that they would like to see him become the face of the federal government’s response.

One Republican senator who attended the briefing said Trump was given two main pieces of advice: make better use of Fauci and have more briefings to update Congress and the public on the battle to contain the virus.

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The subtext of the advice is that the daily briefings being run by Vice President Pence aren’t doing enough to communicate the administration’s message and reassure the public.

“There was some advice on using Dr. Fauci more,” said the lawmaker, who added that colleagues also want “more briefings.”

A second Republican senator said Fauci should play more of a role because he’s a medical expert specializing in infectious diseases such as the coronavirus.

“That was suggested because he has credibility,” the senator said. “He speaks with authority. He has respect in the medical community. That’s what the suggestion was because this is a medical thing. It’s not a political crisis — though we can make one out of it.”

Trump left some of his GOP allies cringing when he declared at a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that he might have a “natural ability” to deal with the complex health crisis because his uncle was a “super genius” who taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Fauci was appointed as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984 and has advised six presidents on a variety of domestic and global health issues. He oversees a $5.9 billion annual budget.

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A Senate Republican aide confirmed, “People want him to be front and center,” referring to a desire for Fauci to play a prominent role.

“They want him to be the face of this,” the source said, noting that Fauci has participated in the daily televised briefings of the coronavirus task force led by Pence.

Senators also discussed their ideas to stimulate the economy, which may take a hit because of supply-chain disruptions in China, canceled travel and possible worker quarantines.

Trump and GOP senators discussed a possible payroll tax cut that would extend until the end of the year.

They also discussed paid sick leave for people affected by the coronavirus as well as small-business loans for affected businesses and delaying the April 15 tax filing deadline.

“The biggest one would clearly be the payroll tax. The questions are what size would it be, whether it would apply to both [employers and workers] and how you replace the money in the Social Security fund,” said a third GOP senator who attended the meeting.

Republican senators also discussed the possibility of adding an infrastructure component, but they would let Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAs coronavirus surges, Trump tries to dismantle healthcare for millions Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus poses questions about school safety; Trump commutes Roger Stone sentence Pelosi plans legislation to limit pardons, commutations after Roger Stone move MORE (D-Calif.) push for that to be included in the deal. 

“Some kind of infrastructure package might be part of this also,” said the senator. “Infrastructure was brought up.”