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Fauci testifying in front of Congress. Photo: Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci declined to tell the Washington Post on Friday if mail-in voting should be used as a public health measure amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying his statement would "almost certainly ... be used as a soundbite."

Why it matters: Fauci said he didn't want the media to set up another confrontation between him and President Trump, but it highlights how government medical experts have often found themselves in politically contentious situations when dealing with issues like reopening schools, mask mandates or the upcoming election.

Fauci was asked about the topic on three separate occasions by the Post's Jacqueline Alemany — all without mentioning Trump's name. His responses:

  • "I don't want to comment on mail-in voting, Jackie, because that is certainly going to be used as a soundbite to which — and I hate to do this to you. It's a sport now in Washington to pit me against the president and I don't really want to do that. But someone will take a quote and, bingo, it'll be me against the president and I don't want to do that."
  • "Well, I think that if people maintain the capability of masks, hand washing, physical distance, to the extent possible ... the risks would be small, if you did all the things that I'm saying. So we'll get — I don't want to get into that because that's going to be misconstrued."
  • "I know ... you're not going to like this, but if you know what I go through every day with, I mean, I don't even want to go —  yeah, I'm sorry."

The big picture: Trump has consistently baselessly claimed that mail-in voting is susceptible to mass fraud.

  • Voting by mail dates back to the Civil War, and 1 in 4 Americans have used it in the last three federal elections, per the Brennan Center.
  • Both parties use mail-in voter drives, and Republicans are worried that Trump's attempts to generate fear about voting by mail could depress turnout among older GOP voters — since some may not want to risk voting in person during the pandemic.

Go deeper

Nov 14, 2020 - Health

Austria announces nationwide lockdown as COVID-19 cases soar

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hold a news confernce in Vienna. Photo: Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP via Getty Images

Austria will impose a nationwide lockdown on Tuesday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Saturday, after a nighttime curfew and partial shutdown failed to control the country's surge in coronavirus cases.

Why it matters: Austria is experiencing an average of 7,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, Kurz tweeted on Saturday. The nation confirmed a record 9,586 new virus cases on Friday, per Reuters.

Nov 15, 2020 - Health

U.S. surgeon general: "Pandemic fatigue" behind soaring coronavirus cases

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Photo: MichaelL Michael Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

"Pandemic fatigue" is the main reason for the record rises in COVID-19 cases the United States has seen this month, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told NPR in an interview broadcast Saturday.

Why it matters: The U.S. is on track for its worst month of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. The latest Johns Hopkins data shows the U.S. broke the world record for the number of new cases again on Friday, with 177,224 people testing positive.