Friday, May 1, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He stopped his top public health expert from testifying about a public health threat.

The White House confirmed today that Trump was blocking Dr. Anthony Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee on the government's COVID-19 response. Fauci serves on the latest version of Trump's coronavirus task force, and has earned near-universal praise for his calm, evidence-based approach to combatting the spread of the disease. 

Fauci has been forced to publicly contradict Trump a number of times. In response, Trump has tried to limit Fauci's public appearances outside of the White House briefings. He's also sidelined Fauci from certain briefings where reporters were likely to ask questions where Fauci's answers would embarrass him. For example, Fauci was kept away from most of the briefings in the immediate aftermath of the debacle where Trump wondered aloud if injecting household disinfectants might cure the virus. Trump has even jumped in front of the White House podium to physically prevent Fauci from answering questions that would require him to contradict Trump.

A White House spokesperson said today that the reason that Fauci would not be allowed to testify before the House subcommittee was that it would be "counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at Congressional hearings." But it's unlikely that Fauci can't spare the time. He has spent dozens and dozens of hours in the last few months standing silently behind Trump and other officials at the daily briefings.

It seems more likely that Trump is nervous about Fauci being required to give sworn testimony in a setting where he can't be simply pushed out of the way of a microphone when he's asked a potentially damning question about Trump's decisions. The House committee will be chaired by Democrats, but Fauci will be allowed to appear at a Senate panel where the questioning will be controlled by Trump's political allies.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to use public health experts as political props in the middle of a public health crisis.
  • Protecting the health and safety of the American people is more important than protecting Donald Trump.
  • No president has ever blocked a witness whose testimony would make them look good.