In at least two private White House meetings, Navarro has clashed with Fauci. In the Situation Room on January 28, Fauci argued that there was no evidence that travel restrictions work, said a person familiar with the matter, who, like others we talked with, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share their views more candidly. Navarro balked at Fauci’s position. (According to the Times, Fauci and other top public-health officials changed their minds on the wisdom of restrictions within days.) Earlier this month, Fauci and Navarro sparred again in the Situation Room about the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which Trump has touted as a potential “game-changer.” When Fauci reiterated a point he had made publicly, that accounts of the drug’s effectiveness were merely anecdotal, his comment sparked a rebuke from Navarro, according to a report in Axios.
Outside the White House, one notable outpost of Fauci criticism is a daily podcast and radio/TV show co-hosted by Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, who, like Navarro, was part of the White House’s economic-nationalist wing. Bannon has faulted Fauci on his show for delivering briefings that he says are too vague and imprecise, while generally praising Trump’s management of the disaster. “We want accuracy and accountability when it comes to Dr. Fauci,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump-campaign adviser and Bannon’s co-host. “No one is saying that this response is his fault, and no one is saying that something is ‘on him.’ It’s How do we go forward?”
Read: We were warned
The unsettling truth is that pandemics are navigated by imperfect leaders relying on imperfect information. That includes Miller’s and Navarro’s champion, Trump—and the widely admired Fauci.
In the case of the novel coronavirus, Fauci was notably sanguine at first about how the outbreak was likely to play out in the United States, even though he describes his approach to his work as assuming the worst-case scenario and aiming to avert it. In his many interviews and public statements, Fauci has given critics occasional fodder to argue that he’s been inconsistent in his characterizations of the coronavirus threat and the White House’s response to the outbreak.
In another interview Fauci gave on Sunday, for example, he said it “became clear” to him by “the middle to end of January” that “we were in real trouble,” as evidence emerged that the virus was spreading undetected from one person to another within communities.
Critics point out, however, that at least in his public remarks, Fauci argued through January and much of February that the coronavirus didn’t pose a major threat to the United States. Consider comments Fauci made in mid-February, when he described the threat of the coronavirus as “minuscule” relative to that of the seasonal flu. For weeks by that point, Chinese authorities had been restricting the movements of millions of people; COVID-19 had been circulating under the radar in the United States; and some public-health experts, both inside and outside government, had been warning that the country was dangerously unprepared for a coming outbreak.