President Trump has praised Dr. Anthony S. Fauci as a “major television star.” He has tried to demonstrate that the administration is giving him free rein to speak. And he has deferred to Dr. Fauci’s opinion several times at the coronavirus task force’s televised briefings.
But Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, has grown bolder in correcting the president’s falsehoods and overly rosy statements about the spread of the coronavirus in the past two weeks — and he has become a hero to the president’s critics because of it. And now, Mr. Trump’s patience has started to wear thin.
So has the patience of some White House advisers, who see Dr. Fauci as taking shots at the president in some of his interviews with print reporters while offering extensive praise for Mr. Trump in television interviews with conservative hosts.
Mr. Trump knows that Dr. Fauci, who has advised every president since Ronald Reagan, is seen as credible with a large section of the public and with journalists, and so he has given the doctor more leeway to contradict him than he has other officials, according to multiple advisers to the president.
When Mr. Trump knows that he has more to gain than to lose by keeping an adviser, he has resisted impulses to fight back against apparent criticism, sometimes for monthslong interludes. One example was when he wanted to fire the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, in 2017 and early 2018. Another was Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general. Mr. Trump eventually fired both when he felt the danger in doing so had passed.
So far, the president appears to be making the same calculation with Dr. Fauci, who was not on the briefing room podium on Monday evening. When asked why, Mr. Trump said he had just been with Dr. Fauci for “a long time” at a task force meeting. Officials, asked about the doctor’s absence, repeated that they were rotating officials who appear at the briefings.
The president has become increasingly concerned as Dr. Anthony S. Fauci has grown bolder in correcting his falsehoods about the spread of the coronavirus.