The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci demanded that the Trump campaign refrain from using him in future campaign ads, saying Monday that it would be “outrageous” and “terrible” if he was featured in another commercial and it could “come back to backfire” on Team Trump.
Asked by The Daily Beast if his comments were a thinly-veiled threat to leave his post if he ended up in a new campaign spot, Fauci replied: “Not a chance.”
“Not in my wildest freakin’ dreams,” he said, “did I ever think about quitting.”
From there, Fauci went on to explain what he meant by “backfire.”
“By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me,” Fauci said. “Since campaign ads are about getting votes, their harassment of me might have the opposite effect of turning some voters off.”
Fauci comments underscore the heightened level of tension that has erupted between the White House and the president’s COVID task force as the election comes to a dramatic close and with COVID infections spiking across the country.
Fauci, a member of that White House coronavirus task force, prides himself on being apolitical. And he pushed back aggressively over the weekend when President Donald Trump’s campaign featured him in a video advertisement and used remarks he made in the past out of context.
“In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” Fauci told CNN on Sunday. “The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials.”
The ad featured Fauci saying, “I can’t imagine that anybody could be doing more,” suggesting he was referencing Trump and his response to the coronavirus pandemic. The top doctor, however, noted he was actually speaking about the task force in general during the early days of the crisis.
The president’s campaign, meanwhile, shot back that “these are Dr. Fauci’s own words” and that he was “praising the work of the Trump administration.” Trump also defended the ad, reiterating that “they are indeed Dr. Fauci’s own words.”
Appearing on CNN’s The Lead on Monday, Fauci was immediately pressed by anchor Jake Tapper on the growing controversy and whether he believed that the Trump campaign should take the ad down.
“You know, I think so,” the doctor replied. “I think it’s really unfortunate and really disappointing that they did that. It’s so clear I’m not a political person and I have never, either directly or indirectly, endorsed a candidate. And to take a completely out-of-context statement and put it in, which is obviously a political campaign ad, I thought was really very disappointing.”
Tapper, meanwhile, suggested that the Trump campaign was already planning on using Fauci again, without his permission, in another political commercial.
“What would you say if I told you I heard the Trump campaign was preparing to do another ad featuring you?” Tapper asked.
“You know, that would be terrible,” a deflated Fauci sighed. “That would be outrageous if they do that. In fact, that might actually come back to backfire on them.”
“I hope they don’t do that,” the public health expert continued. “That would be kind of playing a game that we don’t want to play. I hope they reconsider that, if in fact, they are indeed considering doing that. I hope they reconsider and not do that.”
The Trump campaign did not return a request for clarification if such an ad was in the works.
Tapper would go on to ask Fauci about the president’s insistence to resume his public rallies on the heels of his hospitalization for COVID-19, wondering aloud how safe they can be considering thatthe Trump campaign won’t be requiring face masks and social distancing.
“Put aside all of the issues of what the political implications the rally has and just put that aside and look at purely from the context of public health,” he declared. “We know that’s asking for trouble when you do that we have seen that when you have situations of congregate settings where there are a lot of people without masks.”
“The data speak for themselves,” Fauci continued. “It happens. And now it’s even more so a worse time to do that. When you look at what’s going on in the United States it’s really very troublesome.”
—With additional reporting by Sam Stein.