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When trashing Fauci looks easier than fighting the virus

President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, his

President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, his top infectious diseases official. Credit: Composite: AFP via Getty Images / Saul Loeb and Mandel Ngan

Social-distance those ringside seats

Donald Trump came to the White House determined to undo every sign of his predecessor, including the "no-drama Obama" style of governance. The president likes headbanging too. He's complained NFL play got too soft because of rule changes to reduce serious injuries. He guest-starred in wrestling shows.

So who could blame Peter Navarro, his trade adviser, in thinking he could please the boss with a brutal takedown of Dr. Anthony Fauci? After all, Trump himself, bristling at Fauci's darker assessments of the coronavirus outlook, has tried to take him down a few pegs, saying he's a "nice man" but "made a lot of mistakes."

So Navarro sent an op-ed to USA Today, posted Tuesday night, which declared that Fauci "has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on." Navarro, who has insinuated without evidence about China deliberately causing the pandemic, said he listens to Fauci only "with skepticism and caution."

Navarro could have thought his piece would get a retweet from the president, as have others who knocked Fauci, including an obscure Trump follower who called for the doctor's firing back in April. That didn't happen. Instead, Trump told reporters Wednesday that Navarro "made a statement representing himself. He shouldn’t be doing that. No — I have a very good relationship with Anthony.”

Chief of staff Mark Meadows later joined the pile-on. He classified Navarro's op-ed as "an independent action" and — because it wasn't cleared with communications officials — "a violation of well-established protocols that was not supported overtly or covertly by anyone in the West Wing."

Navarro's attack, and a list of anti-Fauci talking points circulated by earlier this week by an anonymous White House official, sent the usually mild-mannered Fauci into fight-back mode. "It is a bit bizarre. I don’t really fully understand it,” Fauci said in an interview with The Atlantic. "I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it’s only reflecting negatively on them." He added, "I can’t explain Peter Navarro. He’s in a world by himself.”

The government's top infectious disease expert also said, "Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that." Perhaps Trump, or part of him, agrees with that assessment, given Fauci's hold on the public's trust. But will there be consequences for Navarro? There are other examples the economist hasn't worked well with others, CNN noted, such as when he shouted and cursed at Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at trade talks in Beijing in 2018 in full view of their teams. He's still in the job.

Janison: He won't fix it

Perhaps Trump's passive response to the Fauci-Navarro clash could be spun as a "creative tension" management technique that encourages subordinates to shiv and undermine each other.

But public warfare between top presidential advisers has little if any precedent in America, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Such battles usually stay behind closed doors. This looks more like an exercise in no management at all — a reinforcement of what for years has been couched as Trump's "chaotic style."

The president clearly shrinks for the moment from having his name on the nastiest Fauci attacks. Others bash the doctor, who keeps cautiously contradicting Trump's more obvious falsehoods.

During three-plus years in office, Trump has proved particularly weak when sorting out difficult facts or even conveying them correctly, and at infusing his team with a united sense of purpose.

Trump campaign manager ousted

Here's one thing guaranteed to get Trump to replace someone: a failing campaign. Trump announced on Facebook Wednesday night that he has removed Brad Parscale as his campaign manager, installing Bill Stepien, Parscale's second-in-command, in the role.

Parscale had held the position since February 2018, but his days looked numbered after the disastrous rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month left Trump looking out at thousands of empty seats and Trump's poll numbers continued to plummet.

ABC News reports that the president delegated son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner to give Parscale the news that he was semi-fired.

Stepien previously worked for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, running the Republican's two successful campaigns in the Garden State. Christie cut him loose after the Bridgegate scandal in which Stepien allegedly played a peripheral role, which Stepien denied.

Points taken by Biden

Joe Biden has expanded his lead over Trump to 15 points — 52% to 37% — in the latest nationwide Quinnipiac poll. A month ago, the presumptive Democratic nominee led by 8 points.

Trump's job approval fell over the month from 42% to 36%, and his handling of the latest fraught issue in the coronavirus crisis — his push for reopening schools where local and state officials are hesitant — isn't helping. The poll found just 29% approved of his approach and 61% disapproved.

Neither Trump nor his administration has detailed a confidence-inspiring plan for how to open schools safely, The Washington Post reported.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also shows Biden's nationwide lead expanding, from 7 points to 11 points, for a 51%-40% lead. It found Trump’s job rating at 42%, a 3-point drop and the lowest level in two years.

A Monmouth University poll finds Trump trailing the former vice president by 13 points in Pennsylvania — a state the Republican narrowly won in 2016. But the poll adds a twist: A 57% majority of voters believe there are some secret Trump backers in their communities who won't tell anyone about their support.

Death penalty sought in MS-13 case

Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced Wednesday that federal prosecutors would seek the death penalty for the alleged leader of the Brentwood clique of MS-13 in the 2016 killings of two teenage girls and five others in a spate of gang violence on Long Island.

Federal prosecutors filed a notice of intent Wednesday to seek the death penalty for Alexi Saenz, 25, of Central Islip, report Newsday's Robert E. Kessler, Nicole Fuller and Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Trump, who has twice visited Long Island and held roundtables with law enforcement officials and victims' families on the issue of MS-13, said the arrests were part of an “all-out campaign” to “destroy MS-13, a vile and evil gang of people.”

If convicted and sentenced to death, Saenz would be the first person convicted of murder in New York State to be executed by the federal government since 1954. On Tuesday, the first federal execution in 17 years was carried out in Indiana. Barr ended an informal federal moratorium on carrying out death sentences last year.

Shills of beans

Trumps are lined up on both sides of whether to boycott or buy Goya products — part of a wider social media fight that broke out last week after the Latino food company's CEO told the president at a White House event that "we are so blessed to have you as our leader."

On Tuesday night, the president's daughter and White House aide Ivanka Trump tweeted a photo of herself holding up a can of Goya black beans with the message, in English and Spanish, "If it’s Goya, it has to be good."

While the White House and ethics watchdogs sparred over whether the product endorsement violated rules, the president posted a photo on Instagram of himself in the Oval Office with five Goya products on the Resolute Desk. He's exempt from those ethics rules.

But the last troll came from the president's niece, Mary L. Trump, now promoting a book in which she denounces her uncle as a sociopath unfit for office. She tweeted a photo of a can of organic black beans from Whole Foods' house brand.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Mary Trump stood by her story that her uncle's friend named Joe Shapiro took his SAT exams for him, but said it wasn't a man who died in 1999 and whose widow, former tennis pro Pam Shriver, said he wouldn't have done it. "It was not the Joe Shapiro that people have been focusing on," the president's niece said in an ABC News interview. She said she was told the SAT story by family members. The White House denied the testing claim.
  • It took fact-checkers a while to catch up with all the false and misleading comments from Trump's meandering Rose Garden attack on Biden from Tuesday, but CNN found 14 of note.
  • While talking up his toughness with China, Trump has indicated to aides that he doesn’t want to further escalate tensions with Beijing, and has ruled out additional sanctions on top officials for now, Bloomberg News reported.
  • Trump's lawyers told a federal judge in New York on Wednesday that they intend to keep fighting a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. for his tax returns and will file their legal objections before the end of the month
  • Is Ye or isn't Ye? Kanye West paid a $35,000 filing fee to get on the presidential ballot as an independent in Oklahoma, People magazine reports. West's team appears to have filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission, listing his party as BDY, a seeming reference to his plan to create a "Birthday Party."
  • Trump's former White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, told "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday that wearing a mask to curb coronavirus spread is "a personal choice: and I don’t wear a mask all that often, to be honest with you.” Jackson on Tuesday won the Republican primary for a House seat from Texas.
  • A coalition of 23 states including New York is suing over Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' rules that drastically narrow protections for students who allege schools defrauded or misled them, Newsday's Carol Polsky reports.

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