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White House says Trump won't fire Fauci over coronavirus comments

"This media chatter is ridiculous — President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said.
Image: U.S. President Trump leads daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump departs after speaking at the coronavirus task force daily briefing as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stands by on March 26, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

The White House said Monday that President Donald Trump is not considering ousting Dr. Anthony Fauci, a day after the president retweeted a message that ended with the demand "Time to #FireFauci."

"This media chatter is ridiculous — President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said. "The president's tweet clearly exposed media attempts to maliciously push a falsehood about his China decision in an attempt to rewrite history."

Gidley repeated an incorrect history of coronavirus coverage often cited by Trump, saying it was Democrats and the media who ignored the coming pandemic by focusing on impeachment. (In fact, there were many articles on the virus' spread at the time.)

He said that when they finally did comment on the virus, it was to attack Trump for cutting off travel from China and Europe. "Dr. Fauci has been and remains a trusted adviser to President Trump," he said.

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The statement came after the president appeared to show his displeasure with the government's top infectious disease expert by retweeting the message, which was critical of Fauci's comments, along with the assertion that Trump had barred foreign nationals who had traveled to China from entering the country "long before people spoke up," which he did in late January.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that earlier steps to limit public interaction could have saved lives.

"Obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different," he said. "But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down."

So does the president have the authority to fire Fauci? In a word, no, because Fauci is a federal employee who does not report to the president.

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Trump could, however, direct Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to see to it that Fauci is fired. Azar would then have to order Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, to fire Fauci. That's because Fauci reports to the head of the NIH, who reports to Azar, who reports to Trump.

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Still, as a federal employee, Fauci could be fired only for cause, meaning generally nonperformance of duties, malfeasance or some similar offense.

"If President Trump tried to get him fired just because he's not a team player, Fauci would have a very good lawsuit," said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

But a legal dispute, if it ever arose, could take years to resolve.