Former President Donald Trump responded to questions about why he did not terminate the employment of former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci amid the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, President Trump was asked about Dr. Fauci, who had been on the Trump pandemic response force, in 2020. "First of all, you’re not allowed," the former president said when asked why he didn't fire him, which Mr. Hewitt said was the "biggest knock" on his presidency.
"No, no, no, Dr. Fauci was there. First of all, he’s civil service, and you’re not allowed to fire him. But forget that because I don’t necessarily go by everything … but Dr. Fauci would tell me things, and I wouldn’t do them in many cases. But also, he wasn’t a big player in my administration," President Trump said. "Dr. Fauci became a big player in the administration of Biden. He’s a very big player in Biden’s administration."
The former president has received some criticism—namely from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—for not firing Dr. Fauci, who ultimately became a controversial figure during the pandemic for his often dire predictions about the course of the virus. The former public health official also often recommended people wear masks, get the vaccines, and defended COVID-19-related lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
In response to President Trump's comments this week, Mr. DeSantis dismissed the former president's arguments that he couldn't fire him. He said that President Trump's comment differs from the ones he gave about Dr. Fauci in the past.
"It's important to point out for a long time that was not his excuse," Mr. DeSantis told the Rubin Report on Wednesday. "His excuse had been that if you fired Fauci, both the Democrats and the media would have pitched a fit, which, of course, is 100 percent true."
"But that's the price of leadership. You got to stand up and do what's right," the governor continued to say. "Clearly, he could have been fired from the White House Task Force. There was no obligation to run him out at press conference after press conference, have him doing media interviews."
During the pandemic, Mr. DeSantis grew a national profile for ending COVID-19 lockdowns early and reopening businesses while also backing laws that would prevent vaccine or mask mandates, or any new lockdowns. However, like other governors around the United States, Mr. DeSantis in March 2020 ordered a statewide lockdown due to the virus before he rescinded it several months later.
"During the height of the COVID stuff in 2020, Fauci would do local hits in Florida media attacking me for having schools open and some of these other stuff," he told the Rubin Report. "So, there was no obligation to do that. I think you could have also fired him from NIH because he had basically committed misconduct with the gain of function [research]."
But President Trump said that Mr. DeSantis "shut down Florida," and the state "was tight as a drum." He added: "He had vax lines. He was vaxxing everything. Now, he talks about the vaccinations this and that."
"And let me tell you the other thing. I will send you, after this conversation, five articles about how much he loves Dr. Fauci," he continued. "'I do what Dr. Fauci says. This is Ron DeSantimonious. I do what Dr. Fauci says.' That’s what he says. And I’ve got the articles here. But he doesn’t like to go back."
The spat over Dr. Fauci, who stepped down from his federal government positions in late 2022, comes as some hospitals, schools, and businesses have reinstated mask mandates. In a Thursday news conference, the Florida governor announced that there won't be any new mandates in his state, reiterating a prior stance he has taken.
The former president added: "To every covid tyrant who wants to take away our freedom, hear these words: we will not comply, so don't even think about it. We will not shut down our schools; we will not accept your lockdowns; we will not abide by your mask mandates; and we will not tolerate your vaccine mandates.
“Even today, parts of our country are forcing children to wear masks in the classroom,” Mr. DeSantis told the news conference. “Those mandates are [dead on arrival’ in Florida, and we will protect parents and children from this perpetual COVID hysteria.”
As for President Trump, he released a video several days ago saying that Americans should "not comply" with any lockdowns, mandates, or other COVID-19 rules.
"The left-wing lunatics are trying very hard to bring back COVID lockdowns and mandates with all of their sudden fearmongering about the new variants that are coming," he said. "Gee whiz, you know what else is coming? An election."
The former president continued: "To every COVID tyrant who wants to take away our freedom, hear these words: we will not comply, so don't even think about it. We will not shut down our schools; we will not accept your lockdowns; we will not abide by your mask mandates; and we will not tolerate your vaccine mandates.