Is President Trump going to fire Dr. Fauci?

Plus, a question about Bernie and a Postal Service story.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Trump tweets the #FireFauci hashtag, a question about Bernie Sanders and an important story about the Postal Service.

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks at a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases conference in 2011. Photo: NIAID

What D.C. is talking about.

Dr. Fauci. Last night, President Donald Trump got people wondering about Dr. Fauci’s future when he shared a tweet calling for the face of the coronavirus task force to be fired. Fauci had just made an appearance on CNN Sunday morning where he conceded the government “could have saved more lives” if it had moved sooner to impose social-distancing regulations. Then, DeAnna Lorraine, a Trump supporter and former Republican candidate for Congress, 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…” Trump shared the tweet below:

It’s been reported for weeks that Trump’s patience was running thin with Fauci, but this was the first time it showed explicitly. Fauci has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and served under six different presidents (both Republican and Democrat). He is about to be featured on the cover of The New Yorker as “The Most Trusted Man in America.” When he was hired, Fauci was one of the few members of the coronavirus task force team who was heralded by both the left and the right. As one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists (someone who studies the patterns in diseases) who has served under both Republicans and Democrats, Fauci is often a bridge between partisan actors. Trump and Fauci have been at odds repeatedly over how to respond to coronavirus, but this was the first time the split broke out in public.


What the left is saying.

If Dr. Fauci is fired, we’re screwed. Fauci is widely viewed on the left as the only reliable person on the coronavirus task force, and the only one who will give it to Americans straight without going out of his way to kiss up to Trump or sugarcoat reality. As a result, Fauci enjoys an 80% approval rating, according to one Fox News poll from early April. That’s better than Trump and pretty much anyone else, and it’s probably why the president wants him gone. Anytime somebody steals the spotlight from Trump, he ousts them.

When Fauci was conspicuously absent from one coronavirus task force meeting a few weeks ago, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #WheresDrFauci and questions about whether he had been fired. Now it appears those fears could be coming true. This time, though, Trump’s vanity and desire to be the center of attention could kill people. Without Dr. Fauci in the White House briefing room or on the coronavirus task force, Trump will be surrounded by a group of people whose only goal is to make him happy and keep their jobs. Liberals view the threat of that as catastrophic, and if Trump lets him go you can expect one of the largest outbursts from the left of his presidency.


What the right is saying.

It’s a mixed bag. For some more traditional Republicans, Fauci is a familiar and reliable face. He’s an expert who knows the ins and outs of government and has been a part of every major pandemic response for the last couple of decades. For Trump loyalists, there seems to be an overarching desire to go after Fauci — and many are just waiting for the green light from Trump. The number one reason that folks on the right seem to loathe Fauci is that his guidance is crushing the economy.

The Daily Caller’s Matt Walsh derided Fauci for describing the economic downturn that’s resulting from social distancing as an “inconvenience.” Brit Hume recently ran a clip from January 21st where Fauci tells Newsmax viewers there is still nothing to worry about. Mark Simone called out Fauci for a February 29th interview where he told the Today Show there was no need to change your daily life yet. Fauci also caught a lot of heat for suggesting the travel restrictions imposed on foreign nationals coming from China would do very little to mitigate the spread of the virus, a decision that Trump frequently cites as proof he was ahead of the curve on responding to this thing.


My take.

The Trump vs. Fauci dynamic is becoming more and more layered each day. First, they battled over the extent to which the country needed to be “shut down.” Then they battled on how long the social distancing guidelines should be imposed. Then they battled on the efficacy of the malaria drug chloroquine. All of that seemed to stay in the “healthy disagreement” sphere, and through each of those episodes both Trump and Fauci laced their criticism or disagreement with praise of each other (Fauci frequently noted that Trump listened to the science and Trump would call Fauci a “good man”).

But what happened on Sunday is a different ballgame. If we know anything about Trump, it’s that he has an extremely low tolerance for criticism — especially when that criticism comes from inside his own house. Fauci was responding to a question about a devastating New York Times piece titled “He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.” Acknowledging the existence of such a piece of news could get most aides fired, but confirming parts of it — which Fauci appeared to do on national television — is a cardinal sin for Trump. It’s hard for me to imagine him surviving the next week or two after that, but I’ve been wrong before.

Still, Fauci was actually going out of his way to avoid criticizing Trump. If you watch the interview, you’ll see that. Unfortunately, all the headlines focused on his momentary admission the government could have done more, and that’s likely all Trump will see. Fauci hasn’t been right on everything. Nobody has. Even he made some comments well into February that haven’t aged well, and with all the public appearances he’s made it’s not hard to find remarks that seemingly contradict themselves. I’ve also found some of Fauci’s references to the economic destruction caused by the virus blithe or dismissive. But firing him would be a catastrophic mistake. Much like social media can misrepresent Democrats and give more credence to the most progressive voices, it can also misrepresent the right and Trump voters. Dr. Fauci has just a 7% disapproval rating from Republicans, according to Quinnipiac. Nationally, he has just 11% disapproval, according to Fox News. There’s a reason his approval rating is in the high 70s or low 80s in recent polls, and his disapproval rating is almost non-existent. His honesty resonates, his expertise is trusted and his delivery is appropriate. If Trump fires him, there may be more blowback from the right than he expects.


Following up.

There were two stories I’ve covered in recent weeks that got some more attention over the last few days, so I just wanted to give you some updates.

  • The New York Times covered the Joe Biden sexual assault allegations this week. You can read Tangle’s coverage here. The paper of record drew almost instantaneous criticism for a section in the story and a tweet that read (emphasis mine): “No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of our reporting, nor did any former Biden staff corroborate Reade’s allegation. We found no matter of sexual misconduct by Biden, beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” Obviously, if the Times found a pattern of unwanted hugs, kisses and touches, that would be a pattern of sexual misconduct. Within a few hours, the paper deleted the tweets and updated the story with an apology. The Times had been reporting the story out since Reade went public with her allegation. There isn’t a ton of new detail, but you can read it here.

  • The New York Times also published a story about chloroquine. Last week, I wrote about the debate over hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The Trump administration has touted it as a cure for coronavirus, while health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci have warned we have incomplete data on its use. Yesterday, a team in Brazil shut down a study of the closely related drug chloroquine, which was causing potentially fatal heart arrhythmia in patients taking a high dose of the drug. This is just the kind of thing folks like Fauci — and Tangle readers like the pulmonary specialist from South Orange, NJ, who wrote in — warned about. Many on the left are sharing news of the study’s conclusion as evidence the drug isn’t yet safe for use. Click.


Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Reader questions are a big part of Tangle. To ask a question, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in. Give it a try!

Q: I've read a lot that Bernie is remaining on the primary ballot in order to retain some influence at the party's convention. You wrote that: "Sanders is staying on the ballot going forward, which means he could earn enough delegates to have some power over the rules of the party at the Democratic convention." But how does this actually work? How do convention delegates translate to power at the convention and influence on the party platform? 

- Seth, Atlanta, GA

Tangle: Hey Seth! Thanks for writing in and I’m glad you asked — I was actually hoping to get a chance to expand on this, as it’s a pretty interesting thing for folks to keep an eye on.

When Sanders dropped out of the race, he was sure to note that he’d remain on the ballot going forward. That means even though the nomination is decided, folks in the upcoming primary states — of which there are many — will have a chance to give Sanders more power. Every year, the Democratic National Convention doesn’t just decide the nominee: it also decides the party rules going forward. The DNC will establish committees that create rules and platforms for Democrats that will be in play in 2020 and 2024. Every committee has 162 members, and those members are allocated proportionally based on the national delegate count of a candidate through the primary. In other words, Bernie gets more committee members the more votes he gets in the rest of this election. Hypothetically, he could get enough delegates to get 81 members on each committee, even if he’s not the nominee, and then he’d have a majority and the ability to gain power through new rules or platforms.

He won’t get that majority, but he could come close. 1,719 delegates are still up for grabs. In 2016, Sanders had enough delegates to influence the committees that decided the party’s rules for this year. One of the changes Sanders helped usher in was that superdelegates won’t get votes in the first round of voting at the convention. That won’t matter much this year, since Biden is the foregone nominee, but if the race had been closer it could have stopped the Democratic establishment from throwing the election to its candidate of choice, something Sanders was worried about.

For Bernie supporters, this detail is pretty significant. It’s both a reason to continue to vote even though Sanders dropped out and it’s a way to push the party a bit more to the left. If you’re a Biden supporter but only because of the electability argument (i.e. your values are more aligned with Sanders but you don’t think he can win), this is an especially important thing to keep in mind. Sanders may not exert the same power he did a couple of months ago, but a few good showings at the end of this election could significantly increase the say he has in the direction of the party over the next few years.

For what it’s worth, plenty of people were not pleased with Sanders’ decision to stay on the ballot. Jay Jacobs, the New York State Democratic Party chairman, told The New York Post he thought it was a “mistake.”

“The nominating process is not about achieving artistic success, it’s about nominating a candidate for president,” Jacobs told The Post. “Bernie Sanders has agreed that the nominee is going to be Joe Biden, so if he is genuine in his view that the most important thing we can do is defeat Donald Trump, then it’s incumbent on him to do everything he can to unite the Democratic Party as soon as possible around our nominee.”

Jacobs went on to call it an “exercise in futility.” He’s certainly not the only one who feels that way. Plenty of folks responded to the news by criticizing Sanders and chalking it up as a classic Bernie move, something that will continue to divide the party between the progressive and moderate wings. Trump even chimed in to try to throw gas on the fire: “Wow, Bernie is unwilling to give up his delegates, and wants more of them! What’s that all about?” he tweeted.

I can see both sides of it, but ultimately I think it’s good Bernie is staying on the ballot. The race was over and Bernie had no real path to the nomination, but given how many millions of people haven’t gotten to vote yet, I think it’s worth it to give them more than one option. As a politics reporter, I’m also intrigued and curious to see how much support he picks up even after dropping out.


Biden ad.

Donald Trump’s team is starting to launch its ads against Joe Biden, and many are describing them as “devastating.” This one, released late last week, reveals part of the Trump campaign’s plan going forward: portray Biden as soft on China and losing his mental faculties. You can watch it below, via Twitter.


A story that matters.

The U.S. Postal Service is going bankrupt, and it’s unclear whether the federal government will save it. USPS has been seeing a huge decline in mail and is facing billions of dollars of losses during the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of its workers are sick, a dozen have died, and some 600,000 jobs are on the line if the service can’t function going forward. USPS got a $10 billion loan under The CARES Act, but is asking for another $25 billion. Before coronavirus, the postal service was already operating at a loss, something it blamed mostly on the decline in first-class mail, which was a huge source of its profits. Democrats tried and failed to forgive past loans to the postal service in a The CARES Act, and they also proposed handing over the $25 billion. But Trump and Republicans don’t want to rescue the service unless the money comes with structural reform. In 2018, the president launched a task force to propose reforms for the postal service, and it ultimately suggested increasing the cost of deliveries and moving away from its promise to deliver mail and packages anywhere in the U.S. for the same flat fees. USPS has not implemented any of the suggestions. If the service collapses, hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose work and it’s unclear how mail deliveries outside of private companies (like FedEx, Amazon, etc.) would continue. Click.


Numbers.

  • 47.6%. The percentage of workers aged 16 to 24 who have service industry jobs (9.2 million total), the most likely kind of job to be impacted by the coronavirus.

  • 10,000. The estimated number of cars that were in line to pick up groceries from the San Antonio Food Bank on Thursday.

  • 42%. The reduction in Chicago drug arrests in the weeks since the city shut down, a trend of reduced crime playing out across the globe.

  • 1 million. The number of onions an Idaho farmer had to bury in the ground as farmers nationally struggle to adjust to sending their food to grocery stores instead of restaurants.

  • 4. The number of sailors that have now been hospitalized from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy ship whose captain was fired after publicly calling for a more rapid response to the virus aboard the ship.

  • 585. The number of sailors aboard the ship that have tested positive for coronavirus.

  • 1. The number of sailors that have died.

  • 1.3 million. The number of people already without power from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mid-Atlantic as a series of tornadoes and storms makes it way up the East coast.


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Have a nice day.

A 16-year-old in Virginia who isn’t even old enough to drive a car (he doesn’t have his license) is flying across the state and delivering medical supplies to hospitals in need. TJ Kim proposed the idea to his flight instructor, suggesting they use their classes together to deliver the supplies in rural areas across the state. His first delivery was to a 25-bed hospital in Luray, Virginia, on March 27th. He’s been making weekly deliveries since, including “3,000 gloves, 1,000 head covers, 500 shoe covers, 50 non-surgical masks, 20 pairs of protective eyewear and 10 concentrated bottles of hand sanitizer” to a hospital in Winchester, according to the Associated Press. Kim calls the operation Supplies Over Skies. Click.