Dowd: Thank God the doctor is in
It’s not easy being a national treasure.
“I’m exhausted,” confessed Dr. Anthony Fauci when I reached him Thursday evening in the middle of another 18-hour workday.
“I have changed my tune a bit, probably thanks to my wife,” said the 79-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “About a week ago, I was going about four or five days in a row on about three hours of sleep, which is completely crazy, ’cause then I’ll be going on fumes. The last couple of nights, I’ve gotten five hours’ sleep, so I feel much better.”
He said he misses the endorphins of power walking, and he is wracked when he gets home at midnight and it’s too late to answer calls and emails.
“I gotta get rid of this guilt feeling,” he murmured about that moment’s 727 emails.
He said he has not been tested for the coronavirus but takes his temperature every day and usually has it taken another couple times before White House press conferences and meetings in the Oval.
When I spoke with him, he had been missing from the White House briefing for two days and Twitter blew a gasket, with everyone from Susan Rice to Laurence Tribe seeking an answer to the urgent query, “Where is Dr. Fauci?”
Donald Trump, the ultimate “me” guy, is in a “we” crisis and it isn’t pretty. The president is so consumed by his desire to get back his binky, a soaring stock market, that he continues to taffy-twist the facts, leaving us to look elsewhere — to Fauci and governors like Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom — for leadership during this grim odyssey.
Fauci chuckled at speculation that he was banished due to his habit of pushing back on Trump’s hyperbolic and self-serving ad-libbing.
“That’s kind of funny but understandable that people said, ‘What the hell’s the matter with Fauci?’ because I had been walking a fine line; I’ve been telling the president things he doesn’t want to hear,” he said. “I have publicly had to say something different with what he states.
“It’s a risky business. But that’s my style, Maureen. You know me for many years. I say it the way it is, and if he’s gonna get pissed off, he’s gonna get pissed off. Thankfully, he is not. Interestingly.”
The first time I talked to Fauci was during a panic in the mid-1980s about stopping another virus, the cause of the heartbreaking AIDS crisis. Then, as now, he was honest, brave and innovative. He told me that he tries to be diplomatic when he has to contradict the president about what “game-changer” cures might be on the horizon and whether everyone who wants to be tested can get tested.
“I don’t want to embarrass him,” the immunologist said, in his gravelly Brooklyn accent. “I don’t want to act like a tough guy, like I stood up to the president. I just want to get the facts out. And instead of saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ all you need to do is continually talk about what the data are and what the evidence is.
“And he gets that. He’s a smart guy. He’s not a dummy. So he doesn’t take it — certainly up to now — he doesn’t take it in a way that I’m confronting him in any way. He takes it in a good way.”