News & Politics

Could Trump Actually Fire Fauci?

Photo by Jeff Elkins

President Trump hinted at a rally Sunday that he might fire Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he has led since 1984. As USA Today reports:

“Fire Fauci!” the crowd then began to chant.

Trump paused briefly to listen to the refrain before telling his supporters, “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait ’til a little bit after the election, please.”

“I appreciate the advice. I appreciate the advice,” Trump continued. “No, he’s been wrong though a lot. He’s a nice man though. He’s been wrong on a lot.”

So once again with Trump, we are forced to confront the question of Can he actually do that?

Short answer: No. Trump can’t fire Fauci. He could instruct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, to do it, or attempt to force National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins—to whom Fauci has been a mentor—to carry out such a diktat.

But even then they’d need to come up with some cause, says Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “They can certainly harass him, but the whole point of our system is to provide civil servants protections for just these reasons.”

Even Trump’s recent executive order that seeks to create a new schedule for civil servants to make some easier to fire wouldn’t ease the administration’s burden if it wanted to can Fauci. The NIH would have to designate him as someone who could be on that schedule, which would take at least 90 days, and that’s assuming the order isn’t blocked.

But if the administration did succeed in the firing? In that case, Fauci would be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which under Trump has no board members and a three-year case backlog.

Having civil servants protected from political whims is “just fundamental for our government to work right,” Stier says. “It’s just fundamental for our government to work right.” 

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.