The internal debate at the White House over the wisdom of Donald Trump’s continued promotion of an unproven and untested anti-malarial drug as a panacea for the COVID-19 virus devolved into a shouting match as national Defense Production Act policy coordinator Peter Navarro loudly confronted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease specialist who has become a familiar face to viewers of the daily coronavirus press briefings.
The confrontation came in a White House Situation Room meeting of the coronavirus task force this afternoon, according to Axios which cites four sources familiar with the meeting.
The meeting, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, was attended by officials including coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, Jared Kushner, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn, along with Dr. Fauci and Navarro.
Towards the end of the meeting, Commissioner Hahn brought up the drug that the president has been touting on a daily basis as a potentially effective weapon against the disease, hydroxychloroquine and updated the attendees on the results of trials of the drug and the effects that were being seen in real-life circumstances.
At this point, Navarro got up and dropped a pile of folders on the table and began telling the assembled crowd that he — despite having no medical credentials whatsoever — had found these overseas studies that claimed ‘clear therapeutic efficacy’ for the drug.
Navarro’s claims were immediately challenged by Dr. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, who pointed out that the studies that Navarro was distributing were really only anecdotal since they were not conducted using standard scientific control groups.
Dr. Fauci’s pushback raised the hackles on Navarro’s neck since he has been tasked by Trump with securing large quantities of the drug from global suppliers.
Pointing to the folders, Navarro barked at Dr. Fauci, “That’s science, not anecdote,” raising his voice as he spoke and then attacked the infectious disease expert for denigrating Trump’s first travel restrictions from China.
“You were the one who early on objected to the travel restrictions with China,” Axios reports Navarro as saying.
While Vice President Pence tried to moderate the escalating argument, one source told Axios that “It was pretty clear that everyone was just trying to get Peter to sit down and stop being so confrontational.”
It took Jared Kushner to get Navarro to finally back down when he said “Peter, take yes for an answer,” after it became clear that the federal government would be providing large supplies of Trump’s unproven miracle cure to coronavirus hot zones because that’s what the president wants to see happen.
The compromise that was apparently reached became apparent at Trump’s subsequent press briefing when he announced that he added 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to the Strategic National Stockpile and would allow doctors and their patients to make the decision as to whether to use the drugs themselves.
According to one of Axios‘ sources familiar with the argument:
“There has never been a confrontation in the task force meetings like the one yesterday,” said the source. “People speak up and there’s robust debate, but there’s never been a confrontation. Yesterday was the first confrontation.”
The confrontation demonstrates the tensions between health care experts and Trump administration economic advisors who see the president’s chances of reflection sinking along with the American economy that had been Trump’s primary marketing point for his campaign prior to the pandemic-inspired collapse.
With Trump still seemingly anxious to rescind stay-at-home orders and reopen the economy as soon as possible, expect more conflicts between medical professionals and Trump’s political and economic advisors in the weeks to come.
Original reporting by Jonathan Swan at Axios.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.