Jul 14, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci gets thrown under the bus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci gets thrown under the bus.

Plus, a question about Nancy Pelosi and unemployment.

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Today’s read: 11 minutes.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and the White House, a question about Nancy Pelosi’s unemployment plan and a wild “Have a nice day” story.

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaking at a White House press briefing alongside President Trump. Photo: White House

Podcast appearance.

I’ll be interviewed live on the Hot Lou podcast tonight at 5 p.m. EST. The interview will be broadcast live on The Ultimate Facebook page, and you can watch it here. I’ll also post a link to the show in tomorrow’s newsletter.

Correction and comments.

Yesterday, I answered a reader question about executive orders. As some noted, Bill Clinton’s total executive order count was 364, not 254. I have no idea how this happened (the numbers were correct in my notes), but I suspect I was re-typing them into the newsletter and hit “2” and “5” instead of “3” and “6” — i.e. I was one off to the left on my keyboard as I re-wrote part of the newsletter.

Also, some readers noted that the total number of executive orders a president issues isn’t a great way to measure executive power and overreach. This is good context I should have included. That’s because some executive orders are as meaningless as renaming buildings while others carry much greater weight. It’s also because executive orders are not the only presidential power. Presidents can also issue memoranda, which have a similar effect. The flaws of using executive orders to measure presidential power are laid out in this awesome Vox article.

This is the 9th Tangle correction in its eleven-month existence. I track corrections in an effort to be transparent and plan to stop counting when the number becomes embarrassing.

Quick hits.

  1. Los Angeles and San Diego public schools announced in a joint decision that they would go online only this fall. Together, the two districts serve about 825,000 students. On the same day, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state was re-entering lockdown, asking restaurants, wineries, movie theaters and other family entertainment to stop serving customers indoors. He also closed down all bars. The state’s reopening reversal comes after seeing a surge in cases where the seven-day average was more than 8,500 new cases a day. Oregon, which borders California to the north, also announced a statewide mask mandate.
  2. 5.4 million people have lost health insurance since the pandemic began, according to a new report from The New York Times. It’s a new record for the number of adults who lost their health insurance because of job losses in a single year. “We knew these numbers would be big,’’ Stan Dorn, who directs the group’s National Center for Coverage Innovation and was the author of the study, said. “This is the worst economic downturn since World War II. It dwarfs the Great Recession. So it’s not surprising that we would also see the worst increase in the uninsured.”
  3. A “news outlet” called Courier Newsroom has articles that keep going viral on Facebook. There’s just one issue: it’s funded by a liberal Super-PAC. Courier has already spent $1.4 million on Facebook ads this election cycle, and its articles look like legitimate news stories. But the money is being spent to promote flattering stories about Democrats who are in tough re-election races. Backers say Courier is simply ahead of the curve, and already at the natural next stepping stone of partisan media outlets — which are not currently funded by outside political organizations.
  4. The U.S. publicly rejected China’s claims to maritime routes in the South China Sea, a direct but largely symbolic challenge to Beijing. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he will not allow China to treat the strategic waters as “its maritime empire,” and the announcement is expected to exacerbate tensions between what many believe are the two most powerful nations in the world. The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. responded by accusing Pompeo of trying to “sow discord” between China and other southeast Asian countries.
  5. The United States carried out its first federal execution in 17 years this morning. Daniel Lewis Lee, 47, was killed by lethal injection after being convicted of murdering an Arkansas family in the 1990s as part of a plot to build a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest. The victims’ relatives objected to the execution, saying they wanted Lee to serve a life sentence, and legal challenges took it all the way to the Supreme Court. But the court cleared the way for it by a 5-4 vote. Lee’s final words were: "You're killing an innocent man."
  6. Republicans in Alabama and Democrats in Texas have key primary elections today that will impact the 2020 race to claim the Senate. Alabama voters are choosing between former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to face off with Democrat Doug Jones. President Trump has endorsed Tuberville against Sessions, whom he called a “disaster.” Texas voters appear poised to nominate MJ Hegar, a former Air Force pilot, to take on Sen. John Cornyn in the 2020 race.

What D.C. is talking about.

Dr. Anthony Fauci. On Saturday, The Washington Post published a report that Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., had been “sidelined” by the White House. He has not met with President Trump personally in more than a month, The Post reported, adding that the White House had “scuttled some of his planned TV appearances” and tried to keep him out of the White House even as coronavirus cases surge across the U.S.

In interviews with Fox News last week, President Trump said Fauci was a “nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” President Trump’s social media manager Dan Scavino posted a cartoon of Fauci on Facebook pouring cold water on the U.S. economy. “Sorry, Dr. Faucet!” his post said. “At least you know if I’m going to disagree with a colleague, such as yourself, it’s done publicly — and not cowardly, behind journalists with leaks. See you tomorrow!”

When reached by The Washington Post to comment on their story, the White House responded by circulating a list of mistakes Fauci had made in his public comments about the coronavirus. The response, and the White House’s attacks on him, drew blowback from Democrats, public health officials and scientists. The president tried to cool the issue on Monday, saying “I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci… I find him to be a very nice person. I don’t always agree with him.”

However, that same day, he shared a tweet from former game show host Chuck Woolery that said, “The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid 19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust.”

What the left is saying.

The president is dumping “oppo research” on the most important health care official in the country during a raging pandemic. That was the refrain from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a frequent critic of the president and one of the White House’s top opponents.

“Don’t let this feel normal,” Murphy tweeted. “It’s nuclear grade bananas to have White House staff sending reporters opposition research on their own top infectious disease doctor in the middle of a worsening pandemic that has already killed 130,000.”

In CNN’s opinion section, Michael D’Antonio noted that Fauci has led America’s response to infectious disease since 1984, “saving countless lives and gaining the world's gratitude as he advised five prior presidents. Now, as America's coronavirus pandemic death toll passes 135,000, a sixth president needs Dr. Fauci and his expertise. Instead, aides to President Donald Trump are trashing Fauci, apparently setting him up for bureaucratic assassination.”

“As anyone who watched Trump closely understands, he has a habit of attacking those who have tried to serve ethically in tough federal jobs or setting them up to be blamed at an opportune moment,” D’Antonio added. “In every case Trump's goal seems to be to avoid responsibility and explain away a failure.”

For most on the left, this is just a continuation of Trump’s “leadership”: he cannot bear to hear opinions that contradict his own, he can’t stand being around people who are more popular than he is, and he refuses to focus on any single thing besides the economy and the stock market. Dr. Fauci’s warnings about the virus have been prescient, and now the president is trying to silence him because he’s one of the few people willing to openly criticize the United States’ response to the virus.

What the right is saying.

The primary argument from the White House is that Dr. Fauci’s job is to think of one thing and one thing only: stopping the virus. That means he doesn’t have to concern himself with the economy, reopening schools, the mental health impacts of lockdown or the various approaches localities across the U.S. should be taking to address COVID-19. Instead, Fauci’s singular objective is to slow the spread of the virus with national, federal guidance.

Admiral Brett Giroir, the top U.S. coronavirus-testing official, made this case on Sunday’s Meet the Press. He told the audience that Fauci is “not 100 percent right” about whether we should lock down the country again because he works from “a very narrow public-health point of view.” Giroir said Fauci even “admits that (he doesn’t) have the whole national interest in mind.”

Michael Fumento, who has written about epidemics for 35 years, wrote in June that “Dr. Fauci’s recurring disease ‘nightmares’ often don’t materialize,” noting that he once warned of heterosexual transmission of AIDS and promoted a CDC model of the Avian flu that predicted it would kill 2 to 7 million people (it killed 400). “Meanwhile, since 1900 we have had three flu pandemics more lethal than coronavirus,” Fumento wrote. “At age 79, Dr. Fauci has personally lived through two.”

When it comes to his record, he’s frequently missed the mark. “The White House is getting a lot of heat by pointing out that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease official, has a spottier record on predicting the course of pandemics than the media would have you believe,” John Fund wrote in The National Review.

In their statement to The Washington Post, the White House said several officials “are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” The lengthy list of his comments from early on in the outbreak include his doubt that asymptomatic carriers would play a significant role in spreading the virus, that there was “no need to change anything you’re doing on a day-by-day basis,” and claims that the general public didn’t need to wear masks (Fauci said part of his view stemmed from a desire to ensure N95 mask supplies were preserved for health care workers early on).

My take.

When I first started writing today’s edition, I was ferociously pecking away with indignation towards Trump. To be frank with you, I haven’t been so infuriated writing this newsletter in some time. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, one that has now infected over 13 million people and killed more than 573,000 people globally. In the U.S., more than 3.3 million have been infected, over 135,000 have died. Normal life has returned in other developed countries, yet the U.S. is still bleeding jobs, still largely stuck in a state of lockdown, still rampant with anxiety and divisiveness and unable to achieve anything that vaguely resembles normalcy.

And yet, the president — the man and administration responsible for leading us out of this mess — is wasting his time collecting “gotcha” comments on the most experienced infectious disease expert in the U.S. (and maybe the world) who has served across five administrations and several pandemics. And he’s served without any of this kind of friction in the past. Remember for a moment that when he first started, Trump did nothing but heap praise on “Tony” for his track record and his ability to work across the aisle.

Some of the right’s arguments have tempered me, though.

Yes, it’s true that Fauci has had many “nightmare” scenarios that never came to pass. Even as someone who reports on this stuff, I read for the first time some of Fauci’s past comments and warnings from the 1980s and 1990s this morning — many of which proved hyperbolic.

It’s also true that some of Fauci’s earliest COVID-19 comments have not aged well. And that his job is to prepare for the worst and plan for the worst and that’s about it. He does have a narrow focus: stopping the spread of the virus. Figuring out how Americans stay employed, or don’t fall into a massive depressive state, or start killing themselves with drugs, and don’t start to turn on each other — none of that is Fauci’s responsibility alone. His job is to tell us what we need to do to stop COVID-19 in its tracks, and our legislators and leaders need to figure out the rest.

Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, a physician and author of Doctoring Data: How to Sort Out Medical Advice from Medical Nonsense, recently put it like this:

Epidemiologists would rather overestimate a threat by 100 times than underestimate it by 10 percent. These models will always hugely overestimate risk. Everyone has to say things will be really serious because they would look terrible if they said things would be all right and they were not. If they are proved wrong, they can say it was just as well to warn people because it could have been terrible even though it did not end up being so. This approach is taken without any cognizance of the damage that the advice they have given has caused.

All of this is true — and it should be considered when heeding Fauci’s advice.

But are we really going to pretend this isn’t a horrible pandemic or that Fauci’s fears haven’t been realized? Are we really going to discount him for making mistakes before the virus even touched down in the U.S.? Remember: almost all the comments the White House and its allies circulated came before or in the days after the first COVID-19 cases arrived here. That meant Fauci was working off of data from China, the World Health Organization and other foreign governments who were just encountering the virus as we were. A lot of it was guesswork, and he did what epidemiologists do: he told us the worst-case scenario and how to prevent it.

Even more absurd is the fact that Trump and the White House are lambasting him for “the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” Is that the same Trump who told us the virus was going to disappear “like a miracle”? Or who refused to wear a mask publicly until this week? Or told us the virus would weaken in April due to the warmer weather? Or what about in June, when he said the pandemic “is fading away, it’s going to fade away,” before we set a half dozen records for new single-day infections? Or when he said the U.S. has “the lowest fatality rate in the world,” when we’re smack dab in the middle and already have over 20% of the world’s cases and fatalities, with only 4% of the world’s population?

Trump’s lies and misinformation on COVID-19 are so numerous and egregious that The Atlantic compiled a whole article of them, and the list would take you about 30 minutes to read.

Certainly, Dr. Fauci has made mistakes, but he’s publicly owned them. His word is not the word of God and it shouldn’t be taken as such. But if the standard we’re applying here is that anyone who has gotten things wrong about COVID-19 should be sidelined or silenced, then the President of the United States should be locked in a bunker somewhere and never allowed to speak publicly about it again. Our country needs expertise and unity — a focused plan for 400 million people to rally behind. We don’t need whatever the hell it is we’re getting right now. That starts and stops with our president.

Your questions, answered.

If you want a question answered in the newsletter, submitting one is easy: just reply to this email and write in. I’ll add it to my list and get to it as soon as I can.

Q: Do you think that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are attempting to uphold the $600 unemployment bonus so that people stay unemployed for longer, thus making the economic outlook appear more dire and hurting Trump’s re-election chances?

— Daniel, Indianapolis, Indiana

Tangle: To be honest, I hadn’t really considered this as a possibility. Generally speaking, when I think about how politicians make decisions, I try to view them through three separate lenses:

1) Will the decision be good for them? Politicians are politicians, and oftentimes they take on views or support legislation because they view it as something that will play well in the press or with their constituents and, thus, will help them stay in power.

2) Will the decision be good for their constituents? Despite the wide influence of misinformation and the effectiveness of political campaigns, ultimately politicians get re-elected by the people they serve. And the people they serve don’t re-elect them unless they believe that politician made their lives better when in office (or they just fear the alternative so much they vote for someone who hasn’t really changed their life for the better).

3) Are there external motivating factors, like lobbyists, personal, or financial incentives? If a politician is signing a bill, I want to know who the interested parties are in that bill. “Follow the money” is a popular refrain in journalism because it often takes you to the truth — and a lot of players in D.C. make decisions based on whether it will attract donations from big money players who will benefit from the legislation they’re pushing.

When it comes to Pelosi and the $600 unemployment checks, here is how I view the answer to these questions. 1) Supporting this measure absolutely makes her look good — it reflects a deep understanding of the hardships many Americans are facing. 2) Supporting this measure would be good for Pelosi’s constituents. California has processed 7.5 million unemployment claims since the pandemic began, so you can assume Pelosi’s district has thousands of people living on unemployment right now. 3) There aren’t really special interests involved in extending unemployment — though your question raises the prospect of how this might impact 2020 presidential voters. And there will surely be special interest nuggets stuffed into whatever stimulus bill eventually passes.

The answers to these questions make me think that Pelosi is supporting continuing the $600 federal unemployment benefit both because she genuinely thinks it’s the right thing to do, and because she thinks it will play well politically, a happy confluence for any politician.

More directly to your point: I don’t think extending the benefit would hurt Trump politically. In fact, I think the opposite. If Americans are living off of more unemployment than they make during their low-wage job, I don’t see how that would be a bad thing for Trump. He will almost surely take credit for signing the COVID-19 relief extensions (in fact, unlike many Republicans, he’s expressed support for more stimulus directly to Americans) and the checks will help keep millions of people above water.

Alternatively, if Trump were to veto the bill or Republicans were to stop the $600 benefit from being extended, I think it would further damage their chances in 2020. There’s a reason Trump put his signature on the first round of stimulus checks, and there’s a reason Pelosi is trying to own the extension of unemployment benefits. They both understand that a good way to win favor with Americans in troubled times is to give them money. They also understand that giving Americans money is necessary right now.

All in all, I think Pelosi and Trump will both try to take credit for “rescuing” the economy if another stimulus package is passed — and they’d both be smart to do that. But if Trump wants to improve his election odds, extending unemployment benefits should not be his top priority — it should be getting the pandemic under control so we can open back up safely and don’t need the extension in the first place.

A story that matters.

If and when college students head back to campus this fall, many will be in the care of health clinics that frequently misdiagnose them or leave them in the lurch for weeks at a time, according to The Washington Post. The paper “interviewed more than 200 students, parents and health officials and examined thousands of pages of medical records and court documents and 5,500 reviews of student health centers posted on Google” to assess the health clinics at residential campuses in the U.S. What they found was “students reported they commonly waited days or weeks for appointments and were routinely provided lackluster care. Dozens of students ended up hospitalized — and some near death — for mistakes they said were made at on-campus clinics, including misdiagnosed cases of appendicitis at Kansas State University and meningitis at the University of Arkansas.”Click.


  • 71%. The percentage of U.S. parents polled in the new poll who say it'd be risky to send children back to school in the fall — including nine in 10 Black Americans and a slim majority of Republicans.
  • 62%. The percentage of Americans who say they’re wearing a mask “all the time” when they leave the house.
  • 53%. The percentage of Americans who said they were wearing a mask “all the time” when they left the house, according to the same poll two weeks ago.
  • 45%. The percentage of Republicans who say they’re wearing a mask “all the time” when they leave the house.
  • 35%. The percentage of Republicans who said they were wearing a mask “all the time” when they left the house according to the same poll two weeks ago.
  • 17. The number of states that have sued the Trump administration to block the new student visa rules.
  • 1.1%. The current positive test rate of coronavirus infections in New York.
  • 5%. The positive test rate of coronavirus infections New York has to stay below in order to reopen schools.
  • 2%. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock’s lead over incumbent Republican Steve Daines in the Montana Senate election.

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Have a nice day.

In an “astounding test,” scientists were able to successfully revive damaged lungs for a transplant. 80% of lungs that are offered for transplant are “too far gone” to be put into a new human body, which is one of the major stumbling blocks of the transplant supply system. But researchers from Columbia and Vanderbilt have been working for eight years on a new system to restore damaged lungs, and early tests are showing promising results. The process includes attaching the lungs to a large vein in the neck of a live pig to facilitate blood flow through the vessels (yes, you can read that again). “The results, reported on Monday in Nature Medicine, seem like pure science fiction,” The New York Times reported. “Within 24 hours, the lungs looked viable, and lab tests confirmed they had been resuscitated.” Click.

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