Trump even made reference on social media to Fauci’s meme-worthy “facepalm” at a White House coronavirus task force briefing on Friday, sharing a post by a Twitter user who declared that “Dr. Fauci is all of us.” The viral moment, which saw Fauci stifle a chuckle and apparently react dismissively to Trump’s branding of the State Department as the “deep state department,” was among the inciting incidents that have sparked new speculation regarding his relationship with the president.
In that same White House briefing last week and another news conference on Saturday, the two men offered conflicting assessments of possible pharmaceutical treatments for the coronavirus, with Trump striking an optimistic tone and Fauci emphasizing the need for further clinical trials. Then, in an interview with Science Magazine published on Sunday, Fauci acknowledged the difficulties of fact-checking the commander in chief in real time, remarking that “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.”
On Monday, The New York Times reported that Trump’s and some White House advisers’ patience with Fauci had “started to wear thin,” but noted that the president has afforded the doctor “more leeway to contradict him than he has other officials” given the physician’s credibility among journalists and the broader public. But when Trump arrived hours later at the White House’s daily briefing, Fauci — normally a regular presence at the televised sessions with reporters — was not by the president’s side.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence explained that Fauci was instead attending a meeting of the coronavirus task force. But to many observers, his exclusion from the briefing represented yet another indication of escalating tensions with the White House.
At the same time, Trump demonstrated a greater willingness on Monday to potentially break with the advice of public health experts by suggesting he might attempt to restart the American economy after the administration’s recommended 15-day period of social distancing.
Asked whether Fauci, who has championed preventative measures throughout the federal response, sides with the president, Trump answered, in part: “He doesn’t not agree.”
In lieu of a traditional task force briefing on Tuesday, Trump will partake in a virtual coronavirus town hall on Fox News. The network did not immediately respond to request for comment on whether Fauci would be participating.