GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander Defends Anthony Fauci After Attacks by Trump

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican, defended Dr. Anthony Fauci's expertise after President Donald Trump tweeted and spoke to campaign staffers about the top health official, and made false claims about his pandemic advice, on Monday.

The Tennessee congressman described Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, as "one of our county's most distinguished public servants" in a message shared to Twitter following Trump's critical remarks. Earlier, the president called Fauci a "disaster" during a phone call with staff members from his reelection campaign. He later said the infectious disease specialist recommended against wearing face masks during the new coronavirus pandemic.

"Dr. Fauci is one of our country's most distinguished public servants. He has served 6 presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan," Alexander wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon. "If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we'd have fewer cases of COVID-19, & it would be safer to go back to school & back to work & out to eat."

Trump launched several attacks targeting Fauci on Monday, initially, during a conference call with campaign personnel. The president referred to the NIAID director, and other leading health authorities, as "idiots" while discussing the nation's response to COVID-19.

"Every time [Fauci] goes on television there's always a bomb," Trump continued during the phone call, amid comments that suggested "people are tired" of COVID-19. "Fauci is a nice guy," he added. "He's been here for 500 years."

Trump's statements came soon after the U.S. surpassed 8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and approached 220,000 related deaths from the disease. The president's specific comments regarding Fauci's television appearances seemed closely tied to the public health official's Sunday interview on 60 Minutes, in which he said that he was "absolutely not" surprised when Trump contracted COVID-19.

"I was worried that he was going to get sick, when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people and almost nobody wearing a mask," the NIAID director noted, referencing the White House nomination ceremony for Trump's Supreme Court appointee Amy Coney Barrett.

Trump furthered his attacks on Fauci in tweets posted later Monday afternoon.

"Dr. Tony Fauci says we don't allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope. All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions. He said 'no masks & let China in'. Also, Bad arm!" the president wrote, referencing Fauci throwing out the first pitch of a Washington Nationals game in July.

Fauci was appointed to the White House Coronavirus Task Force in February and remains at the forefront of public conversations about COVID-19, mitigation and reopening, seven months later. His earliest pandemic statements indicated some mitigation protocols, like widespread use of masks, might not be necessary prior to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines, released at the beginning of April. However, Fauci has since said his initial thoughts regarding masks were incorrect and changed once doctors learned more about the novel coronavirus and how it spreads. Since then, he has regularly advocated for wearing masks, as well as other measures to lower risks of COVID-19 transmission.

Newsweek reached out to Sen. Alexander's office and the White House for comments but did not receive replies in time for publication.

Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appears at a senate committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on September 23. Graeme Jennings- Pool/Getty