It is highly unlikely that an obscure government official like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, would have become a national celebrity if the coronavirus pandemic had not occurred.
As the most credible and trusted voice speaking at Donald Trump’s near-daily press briefings during the national crisis, Dr. Fauci has gained the respect of millions of Americans speaking from a position of scientific knowledge, often telling hard to digest truths that have seen him gently walking a tightrope as he subtly contradicts the president’s overly optimistic statements on unproven drugs and when it will be truly safe to reopen the economy.
Frankly, many people are amazed that Trump hasn’t completely sidelined or fired the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, particularly after Dr. Fauci admitted in a CNN interview on Sunday that an earlier shutdown of the nation — a recommendation that faced “pushback” from the Trump administration — “could have saved lives.”
Fears that Dr. Fauci’s days as a member of the White House’s pandemic response team were numbered rose as Trump retweeted a post from a supporter that included the hashtag #FireFauci on Sunday after his CNN appearance.
Instead, however, at Trump’s bonkers coronavirus briefing yesterday, the president — likely cognizant of Dr. Fauci’s 29 point lead in approval ratings in his handling of the crisis according to a recent Fox News poll — insisted that the epidemiologist clarify his televised remarks from the previous day to dispel any implication of fault or blame on behalf of the administration in a semi-humiliating public apologia.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) is concerned that Dr. Fauci’s status in the administration may still be somewhat tenuous at a time when America can not afford to lose one of the only scientifically knowledgable, rational, and sane voices at the podium during the daily updates on the progress of the federal government’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Markey announced today that he would be introducing legislation that would protect the infectious disease specialist from being arbitrarily removed from his position by a president beset by jealousy and vindictiveness.
Under current law, any director of a national research institute or national centers under the National Institute of Health can be dismissed without cause at the whim of the president. Markey’s bill would revise that standard to ensure that only “malfeasance by, neglect of office by, or incapacity of the director” would be sufficient grounds for removal.
Calling Dr. Fauci the “most trusted voice” within the national scientific community on COVID-19, Senator Markey warned the president against trying to fire him over any policy disagreements.
“Trump has an allergy to both — science and the truth. Our response to the coronavirus crisis must be based on science, on data, and on the truth. We cannot allow Donald Trump to silence Dr. Fauci or any other government scientists,” the Massachusetts senator said in a statement.
“Educating the public about the science and the facts that will save lives is not, and should never be, a firing offense,” Markey continued.
The protections that Senator Markey is proposing for directors at the National Insitute of Health are not unprecedented, having already been afforded to the leaders of independent agencies like the Federal Trade Commission who have similar protections against arbitrary dismissal by the president.
Despite the president’s ill-timed retweet of the #FireFauci hashtag, Trump’s deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley has dismissed speculation that the doctor’s job is in jeopardy.
“This media chatter is ridiculous — President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci,” said Gidley in a statement that added that Dr. Fauci “has been and remains a trusted advisor to President Trump.”
Given the capriciousness of Donald Trump, however, legislation such as Senator Markey is proposing would make the 80% of America that approves of Dr. Fauci’s advice during the coronavirus crisis much more comfortable knowing that his voice of scientific reason is protected from any fit of envious retaliation.
Original reporting by Jordain Carney at The Hill.
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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.