Some Republicans have complained over the past few months that the media is trying to engineer a feud between Trump and Fauci, which is unfortunately true. They’ve got their hero, the low-key man of science, and their villain, the bombastic right-wing populist strongman, and, well, the narrative writes itself. These two simply must have a showdown.
It’s a fair cop. All I’d add is that Fox News primetime is also all-in on the feud. Their narrative is a little different: In this case the hero is the economy-minded right-wing populist president and the villain is the out-of-touch unelected scientist-bureaucrat, but the end result is the same. There must be a confrontation.
Is it happening at last?
“Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation,” President Trump says when asked about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony, where he cautioned that states reopening too early could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases. https://t.co/xyNTDGeoUw pic.twitter.com/BkdGnhK6f5
— ABC News (@ABC) May 13, 2020
I don’t know what he means, exactly, by playing “all sides of the equation.” I think he means that Fauci talks out of both sides of his mouth, maybe sounding positive about reopening in private meetings and skeptical in public. That’s how Maggie Haberman took him as well:
Trump seems to be saying out loud the criticism of Fauci that some White House officials have made for weeks, which is not being as forceful privately as he is publicly https://t.co/mQNK5LFaVH
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 13, 2020
Trump did have some nice things to say about Fauci elsewhere today, although that came packaged with some polite criticism too:
Trump to Fox Business News on Fauci: "So Anthony is a good person, a very good person, I’ve disagreed with him. When I closed the border to China he disagreed with that and then ultimately he agreed. … I totally disagree with him on schools.”
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) May 13, 2020
Here’s what he meant in complaining about Fauci’s take on schools:
Trump rebukes Fauci, says his testimony about how opening schools amid a pandemic might not be a great idea was "just not an acceptable answer."
"This is a disease that attacks age. It attacks health," Trump adds. pic.twitter.com/qgdOG8qvKZ
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 13, 2020
You can watch what Fauci said yesterday about schools here. He agreed with Rand Paul that in general children do “much, much better” than older people in fighting off the disease. The number of deaths nationwide among people under 18 speaks for itself on that. His point was that there are many things about the disease that we still don’t know, including what sort of effect the virus might have on children short of death. He was referring to the strange phenomenon being seen right now in New York of kids coming down with a debilitating disease similar to Kawasaki syndrome called pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome. Andrew Cuomo announced today that they’re now over 100 cases locally. Three people have died of the illness. Of the 82 kids in New York City diagnosed with it, 53 were also diagnosed with coronavirus.
What percentage of kids infected with the virus develop PMIS? How fatal is it? How many should we expect to get it if we open schools nationally? No idea. That’s Fauci’s point — as we rush back to work, we also rush headlong into the great unknowns about COVID-19. Trump’s attitude, however, is that we know the disease doesn’t affect most children so it’s worth the risk. Let’s hope.
By the way, is there a disagreement between Fauci and Deborah Birx over the very sensitive subject of the “true” coronavirus death count? Fauci was clear as can be yesterday in testifying before the Senate that he thinks deaths are being undercounted. Birx reportedly thinks they’re being overcounted, at least if you go by the CDC’s count:
During a task force meeting Wednesday, a heated discussion broke out between Deborah Birx, the physician who oversees the administration’s coronavirus response, and Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birx and others were frustrated with the CDC’s antiquated system for tracking virus data, which they worried was inflating some statistics — such as mortality rate and case count — by as much as 25 percent, according to four people present for the discussion or later briefed on it. Two senior administration officials said the discussion was not heated.
“There is nothing from the CDC that I can trust,” Birx said, according to two of the people.
According to the Daily Beast, Birx has asked the CDC “to exclude from coronavirus death-count reporting some of those individuals who either do not have confirmed lab results and are presumed positive or who have the virus and may not have died as a direct result of it, according to three senior administration officials.” CDC officials pushed back, though, telling the Beast that complying with Birx’s request would “falsely skew the mortality rate.” The head of the agency’s branch on mortality statistics said, “We’re almost certainly underestimating the number of deaths [in the country].” What’s surprising about Birx’s skepticism is that she was on Jeanine Pirro’s Fox show less than two weeks ago and Pirro teed her up with a question to cast doubt on the death toll, and she passed. Preexisting conditions make people more susceptible to dying of COVID, Birx explained, declining the opportunity to say that some patients were actually dying of those conditions instead of the virus. Why’d she change now? Or did she?
Assuming there’s ever another coronavirus task force briefing, some reporter should get her and Fauci to hash that out. Assuming he isn’t fired by then, of course.