Fact check: Trump ad takes Fauci comments out of context

A new campaign ad from President Donald Trump uses an out-of-context quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, to tout Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 214,000 Americans.

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Bill McCarthy
, PolitiFact reporter

A new campaign ad from President Donald Trump uses an out-of-context quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, to tout Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 214,000 Americans.

"President Trump tackled the virus head-on, as leaders should," the narrator of the ad says, before panning to Fauci to hammer home the point.

"I can’t imagine that … anybody could be doing more," Fauci is shown saying.

The comment from Fauci was in reference to the White House coronavirus task force and the broader government response, not to Trump. It's also almost seven months old. In a statement to CNN, Fauci said he felt his words were taken out of context.

The 30-second spot, titled "Carefully," highlights Trump’s recent bout with the coronavirus and claims the U.S. is "recovering" from the pandemic. The ad was uploaded to YouTube Oct. 10, the same day the U.S. reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases since mid August.

The ad also flashes clips of Trump wearing masks — a measure he has repeatedly criticized and taken sparingly in public settings since his first time wearing one in public in July.

Fauci’s comment was clipped from a March 22 interview with Fox News host and radio personality Mark Levin. The ad gives the impression that Fauci was talking specifically about Trump when he said, "I can’t imagine that … anybody could be doing more."

But that’s misleading, as other fact-checkers and news outlets have noted — and as Fauci said to CNN. Taken in full context, Fauci was actually speaking about the workload facing the White House coronavirus task force at the start of the pandemic and the scale of the federal government’s mobilization as U.S. cases began to flare.

"The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials," Fauci told CNN, adding that he’s never publicly endorsed a political candidate.

The White House coronavirus task force has been led by Vice President Mike Pence since late February. The group included medical doctors and scientists from public health agencies in addition to national security officials and political appointees.

Asked about the ad’s use of Fauci’s remark, a Trump campaign spokesperson told PolitiFact the ad was talking about the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, and so was Fauci.

Another campaign official told Business Insider, "It’s the president’s coronavirus task force."

Levin did ask Fauci if he had "ever seen this big of a coordinated response by an administration to such a threat" as the coronavirus. Here’s Fauci’s response, with the relevant quote in bold:

"Well, we've never had a threat like this, and the coordinated response has been — there are a number of adjectives to describe it. Impressive, I think, is one of them. I mean, we're talking about all hands on deck. I, as one of many people on a team — I'm not the only person — since the beginning that we even recognized what this was, I have been devoting almost full time on this, almost full time. I'm down at the White House virtually every day with the task force. I'm connected by phone throughout the day and into the night. When I say night, I'm talking 12, 1, 2 in the morning. I'm not the only one. There's a whole group of us that are doing that. It's every single day. So, I can't imagine that, under any circumstances, that anybody could be doing more."

Fauci did not mention Trump by name in his answer, although he did go on to mention the "very timely decision on the part of the president" to restrict travel coming in from China while talking about mitigation efforts that could be used to slow the spread.

The interview came on March 22, when the U.S. had recorded roughly 34,800 confirmed cases and about 570 deaths from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world with more than 7.7 million cases and 214,000 deaths logged to date.

The Trump campaign ad’s message of a nation bouncing back from the pandemic is at odds with more recent comments from Fauci.

Speaking virtually with American University on Oct. 6, Fauci said the U.S. is facing "a resurgence of the wave we began with" and that "the models tell us if we don’t do what we need to in the fall and winter, we could have 300,000 to 400,000 COVID-19 deaths."

Fauci also called the White House event with Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, a "superspreader event." Trump announced that he tested positive for the coronavirus days after the event, which featured little social distancing or mask wearing. The White House has not said how Trump contracted COVID-19.

The ad says Trump is "recovering from the coronavirus." The White House physician said Oct. 10 that Trump is "no longer considered a transmission risk," but he did not say whether Trump was still experiencing symptoms or whether he had tested negative for the virus, per NPR.

PolitiFact ruling

Mostly False

A Trump campaign ad claims Fauci said of Trump’s pandemic response, "I can’t imagine that … anybody could be doing more."

The ad’s use of Fauci’s quote is misleading. Fauci made the comment nearly seven months before the ad was released, and he was not talking about Trump. He told CNN he did not consent to being in the ad and felt he was taken out of context.

The full context of the quote shows that Fauci was talking about the White House coronavirus task force and the mobilization of the federal government more generally.

Overall, the ad’s claim contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.