Will Fauci and Birx Stay on When Joe Biden Is President?

Joe Biden has announced his own coronavirus advisory board, whose members are expected to make up his version of President Donald Trump's task force once he takes office in January.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was not on the list, leading many to question why—especially after Biden hinted he would rehire Fauci should Trump fire him from his role in navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

Also absent was Deborah Birx, who was appointed to her role as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator by former President Barack Obama.

As both Fauci and Birx are currently working for the Trump administration on the coronavirus task force, they cannot also work for the incoming administration and president-elect.

Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Earth Institute, said it would be inappropriate for Biden to appoint them to his own task force. However, he said Fauci and Birx may well already be working with Biden's advisory board.

"What we would hope to see is the current White House Task Force working closely with the Biden-Harris team to help ensure a smooth transition in January," he told Newsweek. "In this respect, Fauci, Birx and the rest of the current White House Task Force would be very instrumental in informing Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board going into the transition. Of course, how this actually plays out still remains to be seen with the White House still not conceding the election loss.

"This could translate into restricting these important collaborations and coordination of a responsible transition of government, especially in the midst of a pandemic that has cost nearly a quarter of a million American lives so far."

It is likely that once the transition of power is complete, Biden will bring Fauci onto his team. A day before the election, when Trump alluded to getting rid of the infectious disease expert, Biden tweeted: "We need a president who actually listens to experts like Dr. Fauci."

Vice president-elect Kamala Harris has also signaled support for Fauci. In October, when asked whether she would take a coronavirus vaccine approved by the current administration, she said: "If the public-health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if doctors tell us we should take it, I would be first in line. If Donald Trump tells us we should take it, then I'm not taking it."

Fauci has worked for both Democratic and Republican presidents for decades, having been appointed to his NIH role in 1984. He has advised six presidents on global and national health issues, with Biden set to become the seventh.

Wendy J. Schiller-Kalunian, professor of Public & International Affairs at Brown University, said Biden will likely avoid poaching Fauci at this point for more stability in managing the pandemic. "Naming Fauci to a Biden task force might anger Trump even further, to the point of removing Fauci from his post now, which I think would shake public confidence at a crucial point in the pandemic," she told Newsweek.

"Dr. Fauci is not a political appointee so he cannot be outright fired from the federal government by either Trump or Biden. However, there are several layers of politically appointed officials who could remove him as the Director of the Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and this may happen before Biden is inaugurated on January 20, 2021. However, even if Fauci loses his directorship, he could still stay on in another role in the federal government."

The future of Birx and her role in battling the pandemic is less clear. Birx has been criticized by both sides for how she has handled her position on the coronavirus task force. In August, Trump called her warnings that the virus was in a new phase "pathetic."

Just before this, Birx came under fire from house speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said the physician had enabled Trump to spread misinformation. "I don't have confidence in anyone who stands there while the president says, swallow Lysol, it's going to cure your virus. It'll kill you and you won't have the virus anymore," she told CNN, alluding to comments made by Trump. "There has to be some responsibility. So if the president is saying these things, who's advising him that this is OK and enabling that to happen while millions of people have died?"

Birx criticized the Trump administration in an internal memo obtained by the Washington Post just before the election on November 3. "We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic... leading to increasing mortality," she reportedly wrote. "This is not about lockdowns... It's about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented."

Generally, however, she has been less vocal than Fauci on how the U.S. is faring in the pandemic.

Biden has not commented on Birx or her potential position in his administration.

As of Monday, the president-elect's advisory board has 13 members. "Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts," Biden said in a statement. "The advisory board will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations."

The advisory board has three co-chairs. These are David Kessler, Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF, who was FDA commissioner between 1990 and 1997; Vivek Murthy, who was Surgeon General between 2014 and 2017; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Public Health, and Management at Yale University and the Associate Dean for Health Equity Research at the Yale School of Medicine.

The advisory board will guide Biden and Harris in planning their response to the COVID pandemic when they take office in January.

Schlegelmilch said the team of experts Biden has assembled is "representative of a variety of academic, former government and clinical experts that you would want to see on an advisory board like this." He said the advisory board announcement is a sign that the Biden administration plans to take the pandemic seriously and "will place a premium on the science that the Trump administration has not been willing to do."

"I think the most important aspect is that this is among Biden's first acts as President-Elect," he said. "Remember, the White House Task Force is made up of a lot of strong experts, but they are not given the voice and influence in the governing of the Trump administration that they should have. Biden's announcement of this team almost immediately after being elected is just as significant of a political signal as is the quality and diversity of the membership of this advisory board."

fauci birx
Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx are both members of the Trump administration's coronavirus task force. Biden may rehire them on his own advisory board when he becomes president in January. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Alex Wong/Getty Images

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