Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says he didn’t get the call to attend President Donald Trump’s rebooted coronavirus briefing.
‘I was not invited up to this point,’ Fauci told CNN Tuesday afternoon, just an hour before the president was set to take the podium and speak about the coronavirus still ravaging the nation at an alarming and escalating rate.
‘I’m assuming that i’m not going to be there because it’s going to be in just a short while and I’m still here at the NIH,’ said Fauci, the soft-spoken epidemiologist who has counseled presidents on disease outbreaks going back decades.
He told the network he had been at the White House on Monday, but said he hasn’t spoken to Trump since last week – on a day of drama about which medical experts if any Trump would select to accompany him to the podium.
He said he had a ‘good long conversation’ with Trump toward the end of last week.
Fauci fielded a series of questions during the interview about the pandemic, vaccines, and testing, which he agreed needed improvement.
Reports from a number of states show people waiting for more than a week to get results from COVID-19 tests – which can throw off efforts to contact-trace and avoid spread of infection. The U.S. has about a quarter of the world’s cases after a long spike.
‘We still have to make it better,’ Fauci acknowledged.
‘Some places are getting it quite right. But others, the time-frame from when you get a test the time you get the result back is sometimes measured in a few days. If that’s the case, it kind of negates the purpose of the contact tracing,’ he said. The tracing is meant to identify others who may have caught or be spreading the disease.
Amid the public confusion, Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus taskforce, said he didn’t know if Fauci would be included in President Donald Trump’s first rebooted briefing. Pence, traveling in South Carolina Tuesday, was pressed twice by DailyMail.com on whether Fauci would attend.
‘I’d leave that to the White House today,’ Pence eventually answered, after pointing out how taskforce members, like Dr. Deborah Birx, were being deployed around the nation and had recently briefed the press, just not at the White House.
Pence’s comments came after Surgeon General Jerome Adams, a key task force member, said Tuesday morning that he didn’t know who would attend – and whether Fauci would be included.
‘They’re still figuring out that out. I know that as they resume we will be there in our different roles,’ Adams told CBS ‘This Morning.’
‘As folks know I’m a strong advocate for making sure we are promoting the awareness of the impact on communities of color , particularly African Americans and particularly Hispanics,’ he continued, without providing more information.
He was asked whether he, Fauci, or task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx would attend the briefing.
Fauci has taken to the airwaves to defend himself, even if he doesn’t make it to Tuesday’s briefing.
On Monday evening, he responded to Trump’s claim that he was ‘a little bit of an alarmist.’
‘I consider myself a realist, as opposed to an alarmist,’ he said in an Instagram live interview with Maria Shriver.
‘I’m a realist but I’m also an optimist,’ he said.
He also agreed that Trump’s characterization of him was unfair, though he stated it in his typically self-effacing manner.
‘I believe so, but then again, others have different opinions,’ Fauci said.
President Trump touted the return of the briefings Monday at the White House – after seeing his approval rating slide amid mounting U.S. infections and deaths due to the coronavirus.
‘We’re going to give you a lot of briefings in the next week and over the next few weeks as to – I think it’s very important to do it,’ Trump said while speaking to the press following his Oval Office meeting with Republican leadership.
Trump stopped showing up to the near-daily press conferences after after one update in the White House briefing room went off the rails after Trump suggested injecting bleach or light into the body as a potential treatment for coronavirus.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also appeared to be in the dark about whether he would attend the briefing.
‘I would imagine that I would be at least in on some of them, but we have not heard anything definitive yet,’ he told NPR. ‘I mean, if they want me there, I’ll be more than happy to be there,’ he said.
Complicating the drama, Vice President Mike Pence, a usual presence, and the figure who has led briefings in Trump’s absence, is traveling to South Carolina Tuesday. He was accompanied by Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Dr. Seema Mehta.
Fauci does have another gig lined up. The Washington Nationals have invited him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at their home opener Thursday – a role that historically U.S. presidents have often fulfilled.
He also is set to be interviewed on CNN Tuesday afternoon right before the briefing.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News the briefings would be ‘short’ and ‘very newsy.’ She said the president might sometimes bring other officials with him and might stray to issues besides the coronavirus.
CNN reported that no coronavirus task force members were expected to join the president.