Former President Donald Trump recently addressed the role Dr. Anthony Fauci played during his tenure, responding to criticisms from his primary rivals over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“First of all, you’re not allowed,” Trump said. Trump told Hugh Hewitt’s radio show when asked why he didn’t dismiss Fauci as the head of his administration’s COVID-19 response team. Hewitt labeled this as the “biggest knock” on Trump’s presidency.
“No, no, no, Dr. Fauci was there. First of all, he’s civil service, and you’re not allowed to fire him. But forget that because I don’t necessarily go by everything. … but Dr. Fauci would tell me things, and I wouldn’t do them in many cases. But also, he wasn’t a big player in my administration. Dr. Fauci became a big player in the administration of Biden. He’s a very big player in Biden’s administration,” Trump said.
Trump’s critique of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential rival in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, was evident. He highlighted DeSantis’ approach to the coronavirus pandemic and previewed his potential debate strategy.
“It’s so easy to respond,” Trump said. “He said he wouldn’t let anybody come in. He shut down his beaches. He shut down the entire state. He tries … he has a selective memory. He shut down. [Gov.] Henry McMaster didn’t shut down South Carolina. [Gov.] Kristi Noem didn’t shut down South Dakota.” Trump further elaborated, “He shut down Florida. It was tight as a drum. He had vax lines. He was vaxxing everything. Now, he talks about the vaccinations this and that.”
Trump emphasized that DeSantis was “not in the category” of conservative governors who effectively managed the pandemic.
“By the way, just so you know it sounds very negative, third-most in deaths from COVID? Unfortunately, Florida,” Trump said. “Florida was third-worst in deaths … that’s a horrible, that’s a horrible statistic. But that’s a statistic that sort of counts. Ron was the third-worst in terms of actual death from COVID. Ron is No. 3.”
The DeSantis campaign countered by stating that Florida had fully reopened in early May 2020 after implementing COVID restrictions in April. They also highlighted DeSantis’ opposition to mask and vaccine mandates in the state.
After Florida’s reopening, Fauci continued to advocate for mask and lockdown measures. This advocacy persisted until January 2021, right before Trump’s departure from office. During this period, the White House COVID-19 response team suggested that Florida implement lockdown measures, a proposal DeSantis rejected.
A week later, Trump’s White House honored Fauci and others with “Presidential Commendations” for their contributions to Operation Warp Speed.
“Ron DeSantis is the only candidate in the race who stood up to DC bureaucrats and rejected their sham lockdowns and mandates,” Carly Atchison, national spokesperson for the DeSantis campaign, told Fox News. She emphasized that only a President DeSantis would guarantee that America would never experience another lockdown.
The Trump campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, responded by pointing out DeSantis’ decisions during the pandemic.
“Lockdown Ron should look in the mirror and answer for closing down Florida businesses that didn’t practice social distancing while fighting to keep abortion clinics open,” Cheung said. He also alluded to DeSantis’ refusal to dismiss Florida’s version of Fauci, referring to former Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso.