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Biden quips about ‘president’ Fauci in Covid speech: ‘I see him more than my wife’

Biden quips about ‘president’ Fauci in Covid speech: ‘I see him more than my wife’
Offhanded joke underscores closer relationship that Biden and Fauci have compared to Trump

President Joe Biden quipped on Thursday that his top Covid-19 adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, could himself serve as president and that he sees the infectious disease expert more than he sees the first lady.

The offhanded joke came during an address Mr Biden gave on Thursday regarding his administration’s Covid-19 response and the new omicron variant, which spurred the US to institute travel bans on South Africa and a handful of other southern African nations.

After thanking doctors and researchers at the National Institutes of Health for keeping him abreast of new developments in the Covid-19 pandemic, he joked: “I’ve seen more of Dr Fauci than I have my wife, we kid each other,” said Mr Biden.

“Who’s president? Fauci! But all kidding aside, I sincerely mean it,” the president added, expressing his gratitude to the assembled health experts.

While the remark was clearly an offhanded joke, it underscored the deep differences between the dynamic enjoyed by Mr Biden and Dr Fauci and the relationship that former President Donald Trump had with his top health expert.

Mr Trump roundly criticised Dr Fauci throughout the 2020 campaign as he increasingly made resistance to public health measures undertaken to stop the spread of Covid-19 a centrepiece of his campaign.

Dr Fauci, who runs the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also become a target for bad-faith criticism from conservatives over issues such as animal testing and claims that the US supposedly funded research at a Wuhan, China virology lab that right-wingers have become convinced was the source of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the same time as they blame Dr Fauci for the pandemic itself, many Republicans have espoused misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines that health experts including the Surgeon General have blamed for worsening and extending the pandemic. Many conservatives have chosen to spread false claims about everything from the safety and efficacy of the vaccines themselves to the effectiveness of masks, social distancing, and even nonsense about the virus itself.

Dr Fauci himself famously reacted to some of that misinformation last year when he was caught on camera putting his face in his hand after Mr Trump went on a wild tangent about the State Department during a Covid-19 briefing; the NIAID chief also contended with other wild assertions from Mr Trump including the idea that injecting disinfectant or “sunlight” into the body could somehow cure Covid-19.