By Andrew Kaczynski, CNN
(CNN) — Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis is attacking former President Donald Trump for “turning the country over to [Dr. Anthony] Fauci in March 2020” but DeSantis was praising the chief public health official at the same time in previously unreported quotes, saying Fauci was “really, really good and really, really helpful” and “really doing a good job.”
In other comments, the Florida governor said he deferred to Fauci’s guidance on COVID-19 restrictions and later cited his guidance when communicating the policies he was putting in place early in the pandemic in the state of Florida.
“You have a lot of people there who are working very, very hard, and they’re not getting a lot of sleep,” DeSantis said on March 25, 2020, at a briefing on Florida’s response. “And they’re really focusing on a big country that we have. And from Dr. Birx to Dr. Fauci to the vice president who’s worked very hard, the surgeon general, they’re really doing a good job. It’s a tough, tough situation, but they’re working hard.”
In one of his first appearances as a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, DeSantis attacked Trump for following Fauci’s guidance during the Covid pandemic. Fauci served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases until retiring in 2022. He played a key early role in crafting the administration’s response to the pandemic, but often was criticized and sidelined by then-President Trump.
“I think [Trump] did great for three years, but when he turned the country over to Fauci in March of 2020 that destroyed millions of people’s lives,” DeSantis said last Thursday. “And in Florida, we were one of the few that stood up, cut against the grain, took incoming fire from media, bureaucracy, the left, even a lot of Republicans, had schools open, preserved businesses.”
“If you are faced with a destructive bureaucrat in your midst like a Fauci, you do not empower somebody like Fauci. You bring him into the office and you tell him to pack his bags: You are fired,” DeSantis said Tuesday at one of his first campaign events in Iowa.
Bryan Griffin, a spokesman for DeSantis, told CNN he initially followed guidance from Fauci but changed course and didn’t look back.
“Like most Americans, the governor initially assumed medical officials were going to serve the interests of the people and keep politics out of their decision making. When it became clear that this wasn’t the case, the governor charted his own course and never looked back,” Griffin told CNN in an email. “Governor DeSantis would’ve fired Anthony Fauci.”
In a news conference on Tuesday, DeSantis also acknowledged mistakes early in the pandemic.
“And what I’ve said about it is it was a difficult situation and we didn’t know a lot,” he said. “So I think people could do things that they regret. I mean I’ve said there are things we did in those first few weeks that I pivoted from.”
Though Fauci did help craft the administration’s Covid response, Trump was often critical of Fauci as he attacked his own administration’s pandemic guidelines. Trump began criticizing Fauci early in spring 2020, retweeting calls to fire him in April of that year and in May blasting comments Fauci made against reopening schools. In July 2020, the White House’s deputy chief of staff for communications, Dan Scavino, posted a cartoon on Facebook that showed Fauci as a faucet flushing the American economy for his COVID guidance.
In spring 2020, Fauci was provided with around-the-clock security after he began receiving escalating threats after his providing guidance to Trump for the country to remain as locked down as possible to help control the spread of the virus, which to date has claimed more than a million lives in the US.
DeSantis, like Trump, later broke with Fauci over reopening Florida in July 2020, but he didn’t begin regularly harshly criticizing Fauci until spring 2021.
Last week, DeSantis’ campaign’s rapid response account and a spokesperson also shared a video from a Republican congressman that attacked Trump for praising Fauci, which used comments from March and February 2020, the same time DeSantis himself was praising Fauci.
But DeSantis’ attacks rewrite history, according to a CNN KFile review of public appearances by DeSantis in 2020 as Trump began harshly criticizing Fauci much earlier than DeSantis. And in at least 10 different instances at press briefings in April and March, DeSantis cited Fauci or mentioned his guidance when discussing his own support for restrictive policies like closing beaches and putting in place curfews.
Speaking at a news briefing on March 21, 2020, DeSantis made similar comments praising Fauci.
“The president’s task force has been great,” DeSantis said. “I mean, you’ve called, you know, we’ve talked Dr. Fauci number of times, talked to, you know, the surgeon, US surgeon general number of times, VP, you know, they’ve been really, really good and really, really helpful.”
At other press briefings in March 2020, DeSantis also cited Fauci’s guidance on mobile testing, individual testing, and how long the timeline on COVID might be.
“I would defer to people like Dr. Fauci,” DeSantis said on March 14, 2020. “I think Dr. Fauci has said nationwide, you’re looking at six to eight weeks of where we’re really gonna be having to dig in here.”
On March 25, 2020, DeSantis cited Fauci’s guidance on isolating.
“So please, please if you’re one of those people who’ve come from the hot zone, Dr. Fauci said yesterday, you know, you have a much higher chance being infected coming out of that region than anywhere else in the country right now. So please, you need to self-isolate. That’s the requirement in Florida.”
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