President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his COVID-19 response efforts, arguing he called for a ban on travel from China before experts advised and retweeting a post that urged the ouster of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and, according to polling, the most trusted public official on coronavirus.

The president on Sunday evening retweeted DeAnna Lorraine, who tweeted that “Fauci is now saying that had Trump listened to the medical experts earlier he could’ve saved more lives. Fauci was telling people on February 29th that there was nothing to worry about and it posed no threat to the US public at large. Time to #FireFauci…”

Lorraine, who made a run at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s seat in Congress but lost in a Republican primary, was referencing Fauci’s interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday.

Fauci said there was pushback in late February when health officials pressed the administration to advise greater mitigation including social distancing, which the Trump administration did not recommend until mid-March. But he noted that “a number of factors” played into the crisis, and said “we’re not where we are now because of one fact.”

More than half a million Americans have contracted COVID-19 and nearly 22,000 have died as of Sunday.

“You could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and if you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” Fauci said when pressed by Tapper. “But what goes into those decisions is complicated. There was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”

The president has said that he moved forward with recommending strict social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines after recommendations from Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who showed Trump worst-case-scenario models indicating millions of deaths were possible if the government took no action to prevent the spread of the virus. Trump has since been eager to see the economy bounce back, but extended social distancing guidelines through the end of the month.

Trump has also touted his moves to limit travel from China, where the disease originated, and Europe.

“Sorry Fake News, it’s all on tape,” Trump said Sunday in reference to Lorraine’s tweet on Fauci’s comments. “I banned China long before people spoke up.”

It’s unclear if Trump was referring to Fauci’s statements as “fake news” or if he was using his frequent critique against CNN.

But Lorraine’s tweet, and a host of responses, called for Fauci’s firing, suggesting many Trump supporters see a widening divide between the president and one of his key public health experts.

From time to time, Fauci has openly but diplomatically disagreed with how the president presents information on the virus, particularly Trump’s advocacy for potential COVID-19 treatments that are still under clinical trials.

In a recent University of North Florida poll, Fauci received nearly double the support of the president in terms of handling the coronavirus crisis, with an 85% job approval rating. Eighty-six percent of Floridians trusted Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information on the virus, more than doubling trust in Trump, at 41%. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said they do not place faith in what the president says on the pandemic.

NBC News reported in late March that Lorraine was among the first to use the hashtag #FilmYourHospital, which along with videos of facilities dealing with coronavirus has been shared by COVID-19 deniers who say the crisis is overblown, far-right conservatives and conspiracy accounts across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.


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