Even as President Trump’s aides attempt to shift his focus back to coronavirus, the President continues to hear from a wide range of associates — including the CEO of a far-right television network — who are undermining the administration’s health experts and questioning their approach to the pandemic, people familiar with the conversations say.
While Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci are speaking again after going more than a month without meeting, the President is also hearing from outside allies and even some inside the administration who have offered him competing advice and sometimes bad information, worrying some of his advisers who had once hoped to turn a page in the coronavirus response.
Trump also continues to hear steady criticism of Fauci, who has resumed making television appearances after weeks off the national airwaves — earning him more irritation from Trump, according to the people familiar.
The competing voices spilled into public view when Trump retweeted a message late Monday critical of Fauci that claimed the infectious disease expert had “misled the American public on many issues.” Fauci appeared hours later on ABC to say he would continue doing his job, despite the President’s attacks.
A series of events earlier on Monday illustrated the dueling stream of voices influencing Trump as the outbreak continues to rage across the nation:
- A vaccine meeting: Midday, Fauci and others gathered in the Oval Office to update Trump on the 30,000-person phase three trial launched by Moderna. Trump later told reporters it was a “great meeting” and participants walked away believing the President was sincere in his efforts to convey more leadership on the outbreak. While the meeting focused almost exclusively on the vaccine trial, and not on Trump’s response to the virus more broadly, it seemed to participants like the President was engaged — unlike some previous meetings that became detailed with unrelated topics and complaints.
- A trip to North Carolina: But as the day progressed, Trump heard from several others who reinforced a different message than the one being offered by the administration’s health experts. His hawkish trade adviser Peter Navarro — who published an op-ed in USA Today last week trashing Fauci without running it past the White House but was never formally reprimanded — traveled alongside Trump to North Carolina, where the President broke with health experts by calling on governors to reopen. “I really do believe a lot of the governors should be opening up states that they’re not opening,” Trump said, countering the advice being offered by Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx for states to rethink how they are listing restrictions.
- A talk with an executive of a far-right network: The same day, Trump spoke with Robert Herring, the chief executive of far-right OANN, about an unproven anti-malarial that Trump has long touted and even took himself, despite a lack of clear evidence on its efficacy in preventing or treating Covid-19. “Yesterday, I had a chance to talk to President Trump about hydroxychloroquine,” Herring later wrote on Twitter. “I gave him a list of doctors we have interviewed. I know he wants to help & put people back to work. Hope he talks to real doctors & not Dr. ‘Farci.’ Remember: Trump has cited OANN as a new favorite television channel after becoming frustrated with Fox News’ willingness to interview Democrats. The channel, which is not distributed widely, often peddles wild conspiracies and false information.
By Monday evening, Trump had taken the hydroxychloroquine message public, retweeting a series of videos that were later removed by Twitter for containing false and misleading information about mask-wearing and the unproven drug.
Fauci said on ABC he agrees with the Food and Drug Administration that “the overwhelming prevailing clinical trials that have looked at the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine have indicated that it is not effective in coronavirus disease.”
The mild rebuke from Fauci caused some Trump advisers to shake their heads, fearing another round of headlines pitting Trump against the well-respected disease expert.
More on the Fauci-White House relationship: Last week, Trump said Fauci was a “nice guy” in an interview before his interviewer, Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports, said the doctor was “on my axe list because every time he talks and says the country should stay inside, my stocks tank.”
“Well, he’d like to see it closed up for a couple of years, but that’s okay because I’m president, so I say, ‘Well, I appreciate your opinion, now give me another opinion, somebody please,’ “ Trump responded.
Meanwhile, Navarro has sustained his attacks on Fauci, saying he doesn’t regret his unsanctioned op-ed and dinging the doctor for his first pitch last week at Nationals Park.
Asked by reporters at the White House on Tuesday about the continued attacks on Fauci, Navarro stormed away.