Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that former President Donald Trump tried to get him to downplay the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 25.6 million individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in America as of Sunday, and over 429,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus. At the time, Fauci’s routine public contradictions of Trump’s pandemic claims drew harsh backlash from MAGA supporters, who would chant “fire Fauci!” at campaign rallies.
Now working for President Biden’s administration, Fauci told The New York Times, in an interview published Sunday, that Trump had urged him to be optimistic—even as things got dire.
“I would try to express the gravity of the situation, and the response of the president was always leaning toward, ‘Well, it’s not that bad, right?’ And I would say, ‘Yes, it is that bad,'” he recalled.
“It was almost a reflex response, trying to coax you to minimize it. Not saying, ‘I want you to minimize it,’ but, ‘Oh, really, was it that bad?'” Fauci continued.
“There were a couple of times where I would make a statement that was a pessimistic viewpoint about what direction we were going, and the president would call me up and say, ‘Hey, why aren’t you more positive? You’ve got to take a positive attitude. Why are you so negativistic? Be more positive.'”
Fauci also expressed concern about how Trump would take the opinions of his business colleagues and others on pandemic-related issues as important information.
“It was clear that he was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know who, people he knew from business, saying, ‘Hey, I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?’ or, ‘Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal,'” he said. “He would take just as seriously their opinion—based on no data, just anecdote—that something might really be important. It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches.”
Trump embraced the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria medication, to treat the coronavirus in its early stages. Last year, he tweeted a controversial claim that the drug is “a cure for Covid.” However, his support for the drug, which has an unproven efficacy against the virus, directly contradicted federal health agency guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned against its use for COVID-19 outside of a hospital setting or clinical trial, due to risk of heart rhythm issues.
Fauci said he tried to “calmly explain” to Trump that drugs need to undergo a clinical trial, but the former president would say: “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, this stuff really works.”
Newsweek reached out to Trump representatives for comment.