I asked Fauci if he was daunted by all these developments, and if not, how he planned to do his work in spite of them. An edited version of our conversation, which took place at the Aspen Ideas Festival, follows:
Olga Khazan: I know you've worked for every administration — you've worked for Bush, you worked for Reagan, Obama …
Anthony Fauci: Clinton.
Khazan: Clinton, he was in there too. [Given that many civil servants have resigned from the Trump administration] … when Trump was elected, did you ever think, “I can't do this one, I'm going to have to sit this one out?”
Fauci: No, not at all. I am embraced by every administration from Reagan [onward] because they realize that I speak truth to them even when they don't like it. Even if ideologically they’re very different. When I'm with Reagan, I told Reagan some of the things that I felt he should do with HIV/AIDS. He didn't listen to everything. He was a good guy but he was afraid to go public and make the bully pulpit and say, “hey everybody this is a problem, we gotta address it.” However, when I got to George H.W. Bush I became very good friends with him.
When he was vice president, he knew that you had to address the AIDS issue. I was very well-known as the AIDS person of the government because very few people were working on AIDS. And he said, “I want you to teach me about HIV. Show me, show me patients.” He wanted to learn. So it's my old adage, be nice to everybody in Washington, because one of these days they're going to be really powerful. So I was nice to the vice president and very soon thereafter he was president, so then I had a friend in the White House. I gained a reputation that I would tell you the truth, even if it was something that you didn’t like.
So the word got out that you call on this guy [Fauci], he is completely apolitical, and he'll give you the advice that you need. So I did it with George H.W. Bush, I did it with Clinton, I did it with George W. Bush and I did it with Obama. I developed the [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] program with Bush. I mean for him to give me the opportunity to go to Africa and put together a $15 billion dollar program, that was really nice. With Obama, I was in the situation room like every week, with Ebola and then Zika and H7N9, potentially pandemic flu.
So when the next president came I'd be more than happy to advise, I'm not gonna say, “no I'm not gonna do that.”
Khazan: How do you stay motivated, since this administration has pretty openly wanted to cut a lot of global-health funding, foreign aid, AIDS research? A lot of the things that you would probably work on.
Fauci: It doesn't interfere with my motivation. I'm driven by the problems that I have to solve. Sometimes you do it with a lot of resources and sometimes you do it with less resources. I don't say, “well I'm gonna get out because we have less resources.” And as a matter of fact, we don't know what the resources are gonna be because we don't have a budget yet.