On Call: Anthony Fauci Tells All—Nearly—on Trump, COVID and Other Disasters

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Anthony Fauci directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for nearly 40 years. He tackled AIDS, Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and SARS, yet at the end of his run, COVID-19 tested him and the U.S. like nothing in recent memory. More than 1.1 million died. Life-expectancy dropped by more than a year.

“I had confronted terrible outbreaks, but none of them prepared me for the environment I would find myself in during the coronavirus pandemic,” Fauci writes in On Call: A Doctor’s Journey in Public Service, his eagerly awaited memoir.

Smoothly written and well paced, On Call is a tale of upward arc and challenges met—but also unanswered questions.

Fauci describes the journey from a boyhood in Brooklyn to government service, with first stops at Regis, the fabled Jesuit high school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side; College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts; and Cornell medical school, a bare 10 minutes from Regis.

After it all, came COVID. Amid mandates, masks and closures, Fauci emerged as the figure the right came to hate. He and family members received death threats. White powder was sent to his office. Less than a month before the 2020 election, Donald Trump branded Fauci a “disaster,” and referred to him as having been around for “500 years.” Fauci was then 79. Earlier this month, Trump turned 78.

Anthony Fauci: Volcanic Donald Trump Screamed F-Bombs, Then Said He Loved Me

Fauci retired in late 2022. But loathing and rancor remain.

“Fauci belongs in prison,” fumed Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Georgia Republican, after a recent congressional hearing. “He should be tried for mass murder and crimes against humanity.”

A GOP-controlled House select subcommittee chimed: “Dr. Fauci showed no remorse for the millions of lives affected by his divisive rhetoric and his unscientific policies.

“He did not apologize to the thousands of Americans who lost their jobs because they refused the novel vaccine, nor did he apologize to children experiencing severe learning loss as a result of actions he promoted.”

On the other hand, according to a 2023 study, “excess mortality was significantly higher for Republican voters than Democratic voters after COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults, but not before.”

So-called red states also lead the U.S. in gun deaths, out-of-wedlock births and lower life expectancies. Talk about the kettle calling the stove black.

From his perch at NIAID, Fauci worked for every president from Ronald Reagan to Joe Biden. On the page, he displays particular respect for George H.W. Bush. A chapter titled “A President, a Gentleman, and a Friend” describes the 41st president’s efforts to combat AIDS and HIV, as well as the rapport between the two men.

Fauci declined Bush’s offer to lead NIH but suffered no retribution.

“Dear Tony, You 60?”, Bush wrote on Fauci’s birthday. “Warm regards from your friend.”

The Bush family invited Fauci to the former president's funeral, in December 2018. Fauci writes: “My lasting impression of George H.W. Bush was that he brought decency, dignity and integrity to the office of the presidency.”

By contrast, the chapter on the Trump presidency is titled, “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.” An alternative: “The Tempest.” Fauci recounts the ex-president’s explosive temper—and the sycophancy of his vice president, Mike Pence.

Fauci’s first run-in with Trump’s “rage” came when his cellphone rang on June 3, 2020.

“The caller—the president—started screaming,” Fauci writes.

His offense? He told a reporter immunity to a coronavirus usually lasted between six months and a year.

In other words, were a COVID vaccine developed, regular booster shots would likely be required. With Trump trailing in his re-election fight with Biden—a man the 45th president held in contempt—that was unwelcome news. Losing to Biden would mean that Trump was, well, a “loser.”

“It was quite a phone call,” Fauci writes. “The president was irate, saying that I could not keep doing this to him. He said he loved me, but the country was in trouble, and I was making it worse.

“Getting yelled at by the president of the United States, no matter how much he tells you that he loves you, is not fun.”

It’s simple: flu shots are annual events. Then again, Trump purportedly never bothered with them himself. Like military service, vaccines were for other people.

Fauci portrays Pence as a toady.

“Vice presidents are almost always publicly loyal to the president,” Fauci writes. “But in my opinion, Vice President Pence sometimes overdid it.

“During task force meetings, he often said some version of, ‘There are a lot of smart people around here, but we all know that the smartest person is upstairs.’”

Pence was not speaking of God.

Marjorie Taylor Greene Promises to ‘Lock Up’ Fauci for ‘Crimes Against Humanity’

Elsewhere, On Call fails to repair damage to Fauci’s credibility resulting from his opacity on the issue of COVID’s origin.

The FBI and the Department of Energy have concluded with varying degrees of confidence that the virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

In a June 2024 op-ed in The New York Times, Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard, wrote: “A growing volume of evidence… suggests that the pandemic most likely occurred because a virus escaped from a research lab in Wuhan, China.”

But Fauci appears to have sought to limit public debate.

“I would not do anything about this right now,” he emailed Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, in April 2020. “It is a shiny object that will go away in times [sic].”

Wrong. It remains with us. Robert Kennedy Jr.’s presidential run bears witness to continuing COVID controversy.

On the page, Fauci does pay serious attention to the national divide. Unfortunately, he seeks to minimize his own role as that divide deepened.

Looking ahead, bird flu tests are hard to find.

“We’re making the same mistakes today that we made with COVID,” Deborah Birx, a Fauci colleague, once Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator, told CNN this month.

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