Mar 3, 2020 - Health

"You don't want to go to war with a president": Top NIH doctor talks coronavirus response

National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci at a coronavirus press conference at the White House. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Politico that the nation's political polarization is forcing him to "walk the fine balance" of informing the public about the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak and combating misinformation — which can sometimes come from President Trump.

What he's saying: "You should never destroy your own credibility. And you don't want to go to war with a president. ... But you got to walk the fine balance of making sure you continue to tell the truth."

The state of play: "I don't think that we are going to get out this completely unscathed. ... I think this is going to be one of those things we look back on and say boy, that was bad," Fauci told Politico.

  • "It could be really, really bad. I don't think it's gonna be, because I think we'd be able to do the kind of mitigation. It could be mild. I don't think it's going to be that mild either. It's really going to depend on how we mobilize," he added.

The big picture: Fauci, who has worked under six presidential administrations and took the lead on combatting the HIV/AIDS crisis while President Reagan was in office, is an infectious disease expert who has earned the trust of both Democrats and Republicans over his career.

  • "If I'm buying real estate in New York, I'll listen to the president of the United States. If I'm asking about infectious diseases, I'm going to listen to Tony Fauci," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Worth noting: Fauci also denied to Politico that the White House had pulled him from televised interviews regarding coronavirus, telling the outlet that Vice President Pence's office — which is now heading the response to the virus — wanted to re-clear his appearances after taking point on the issue.

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