Jul 18, 2020

Trump team’s circular firing squad goes after Fauci, CNN.com

Trump team's circular firing squad goes after Fauci Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst Updated 8:45 AM ET, Thu July 16, 2020 "Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is senior editor of the Coronavirus Daily Brief and author of the new book "Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos." The opinions expressed here are his own. View more opinion at CNN." (CNN)The Trump administration is notable for its unusual behavior. But it's unheard of for a senior administration official to write an op-ed under his own name in a national newspaper trashing by name another senior administration official. P That's what happened Tuesday when Peter Navarro attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci in USA Today, writing that Fauci "has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on." That's the Peter Navarro with a doctorate in economics who is the top trade adviser to President Donald Trump. Navarro's skeptical views about free trade are largely dismissed by most economists. And without any medical expertise, he's the one critiquing Dr. Fauci for his advice about the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Fauci has served six US presidents as their top infectious disease expert. Navarro says that Fauci fought against the decision to curtail travel from China early this year and in Navarro's USA Today piece, he provided a link that purportedly buttressed that claim. But the link provided in his USA Today op-ed in fact shows that while Fauci had at first cautioned against curtailing travel from China, by late January Fauci was one of the key public health officials advocating to a skeptical President Trump to do just that, which Trump then implemented. Navarro correctly points out that at first Fauci told the American public that the risk from the virus was "low." At the time Fauci made that statement in mid-February that seemed like a reasonable point since there were only 15 cases in the US. According to John Hopkins University, today there are around 3.5 million cases in the US and Fauci -- who has largely been blocked by the White House from appearing on TV in recent months -- has warned in other venues that there could be as many as 100,000 new cases a day in the US. This has not made Fauci the flavor of the month at the White House which is following President Trump's lead to erroneously claim that all is hunky dory on the Covid-19 front. In his op-ed, Navarro accuses Fauci of "flip-flopping on the use of masks," but in fact when Fauci warned the general public not to wear masks this was early in the pandemic and in the context of ensuring that masks -- then in short supply -- went to front line health workers rather than being hoarded by ordinary Americans. Navarro's USA Today op-ed linked to a story that made precisely this point, undercutting Navarro's own argument that Fauci was flip-flopping on masks rather than simply providing his best public health advice -- which has evolved as the situation has evolved. Navarro also says Fauci was wrong on the efficacy of Trump's "game changer" drug, hydroxychloroquine, to fight Covid-19, citing "a recent Detroit hospital study showed a 50% reduction in the mortality rate when the medicine is used in early treatment." But there are a whole raft of studies that conflict with the Detroit study. They include a study of more than 1,400 Covid-19 patients in New York published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May that found that hydroxychloroquine gave no benefits to coronavirus patients and actually significantly increased their risk of cardiac arrest. A separate New England Journal of Medicine study concluded hydroxychloroquine neither helped nor harmed 1,376 patients who were admitted to a New York City hospital between March 7 to April 8. USA Today even appended a note to Navarro's op-ed, noting the inconvenient fact that "The Food and Drug Administration has revoked its approval for treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine." Navarro also took Fauci to task for saying "a falling mortality rate doesn't matter when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening." Of course, the rising infection rates we have seen this month in 40 out of 50 states will surely push the mortality rate back up, as there is typically a lag of many weeks between a first infection and those who eventually die of the disease, and the falling mortality rate today is a reflection of stay-at-home measures and, perhaps, better informed medical care than was in place in past months, not that the coronavirus has suddenly decided to take a summer holiday. In a note published after Navarro's piece first appeared, USA Today's editorial page editor Bill Sternberg acknowledged problems with it: "Several of Navarro's criticisms of Fauci -- on the China travel restrictions, the risk from the coronavirus and falling mortality rates -- were misleading or lacked context. As such, Navarro's op-ed did not meet USA TODAY The attacks on Fauci by Navarro are symptomatic of a deep problem in the Trump administration that begins with Trump himself, which is to prioritize wishful thinking over science. And instead of providing any element of national leadership to combat the coronavirus, the Trump White House is employing the oldest political trick in the book which is to shoot the messenger who brings unwelcome news, in this case a 79-year-old doctor who 67% of the public trust to give them accurate information about the virus as opposed to only 26% for Trump, according to a New York Times/ Siena College poll last month. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday that Navarro's op-ed was an "independent action that was a violation of well-established protocol that was not supported overtly or covertly." Yep, that fully explains why the White House over the weekend provided a background briefing to reporters that made much the same points that Navarro made in his op-ed about Fauci's purported errors. This White House seems to believe that Americans have the historical recall of gnats. Speaking to The Atlantic magazine in an interview published Wednesday, Fauci said of the Trump White House efforts to discredit him, "I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that ... I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it's only reflecting negatively on them." Fauci added, "I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself." Indeed.