President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed suggestions that his relationship with Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, might have soured, after Fauci was conspicuously absent from Friday’s news briefing by the White House coronavirus task force.
“I don’t know. But every time you ask that question, whenever he’s not here, you say, look, where is he? And you’ll say, is there a problem? No problem whatsoever,” Trump told CNN’s Jim Acosta, who inquired about Fauci’s absence, after his network reported Fauci was removed from the group of briefers at the last minute.
“Every time he’s not here — sometimes I’ll ask him to come, because that’s the first question you and a few others from the fake news establishment ask is, where is Dr. Fauci? We’re doing great work together. Except we are covering a different subject today,” the president continued.
Minutes earlier, however, a White House official chalked up Fauci’s disappearance from the daily briefing to a matter of having limited space onstage in the briefing room.
"We had to social distance. We are announcing [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance so we have the director of the CDC and Surgeon General,” the official said. There were individuals on each side of the stage, which the official said went to Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who spoke about how the government was attempting to close insurance gaps for the unemployed.
Fauci has become one of the most prominent faces of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, earning plaudits — as well as some vitriol — for his occasionally brutal honesty, and leading to raised eyebrows when he’s not in attendance at the daily briefing.
The last time Fauci was mysteriously out of sight for White House coronavirus events, rumors swirled that the president’s patience with the doctor, who has been more willing than most administration officials to publicly contradict the president, was wearing thin. Trump denied that there was any friction. But Fauci’s absences coincided with a series of rather candid interviews Fauci had given about how he deals with Trump’s misinformation about the virus.
And though Trump again downplayed signs of possible tension with Fauci on Friday, his absence came a day after Fauci flatly asked why the country wasn’t under a nationwide stay-at-home order from Trump.
“If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that,” he told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, adding: “We really should be.”
Trump has repeatedly defended his deference to governors and local leaders on whether to order residents to stay home, even as more than three dozen state leaders have handed down such orders.
Asked whether all states have to be “on the same page” in terms of issuing those directives, Fauci told CNN Thursday, “I don’t understand why that’s not happening,” and acknowledged the Trump administration’s hesitance to encroach upon local authorities.
Earlier Friday, Fauci also appeared on “Fox & Friends,” one of the president’s favorite shows on cable, where he threw cold water on studies featuring antimalarial drugs that Trump has often hyped as a potential cure for coronavirus.
“Granted there is a suggestion that there’s a benefit, I think we have to be careful that we don’t make that leap to assume this is a knockout drug,” Fauci warned.