Former President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Dr. Anthony Fauci was not a “big player” in his administration and reiterated his position that he wasn’t “allowed” to fire the medical adviser.
“First of all, you’re not allowed,” Trump told Hugh Hewitt’s radio show when asked by the conservative host why he didn’t fire Fauci, the controversial head of Trump’s COVID-19 response team, which Hewitt called 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 has consistently criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his closest opponent in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, for his response to the coronavirus pandemic and did so again in the interview with Hewitt by previewing what he would say to DeSantis if questioned during a debate about not firing Fauci.
“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 continued, “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 added that DeSantis was “not in the category” of conservative governors who did a “good job” handling the coronavirus.
“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 has argued that Florida was fully open in early May 2020 after implementing COVID restrictions in early April and has pointed to DeSantis banning mask and vaccine mandates along with gain-of-function mandates in the state.
After Florida reopened, Fauci continued to push mask and lockdown measures throughout Trump’s administration, including up until January 2021 as Trump was about to leave office when the White House COVID-19 Response Team encouraged Florida to push lockdown measures, a request to which DeSantis did not adhere.
Roughly a week later, Trump’s White House presented Fauci and others with “Presidential Commendations” for their work with 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 Digital in response to Trump’s comments.
“Voters know only a President DeSantis would ensure America is never locked down again. Every other candidate has either already failed that test or is making a promise they can’t be trusted to keep.”
In a statement to Fox News Digital, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said, “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.”
“He also refused to fire Florida’s Fauci,” Cheung added, a reference to former Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso, while also directing Fox News Digital to a June post on the campaign website with the headline “Ron DeSantis’ Lying Record on COVID.”