White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Monday said he was qualified to engage and disagree with Dr. Anthony Fauci on the use of an anti-malarial drug as a coronavirus treatment – which is not yet proven as effective – saying, “I’m a social scientist.”
“Doctors disagree about things all the time. My qualifications in terms of looking at the science is that I’m a social scientist,” he told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.” “I have a Ph.D. And I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.”
Navarro’s remarks follow reports that he clashed with officials in the Situation Room over the weekend about the unproven efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in treating coronavirus. While the task force was discussing the latest on the anti-malaria drug, an exasperated Navarro lashed out at Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who has urged caution around the drug, a person familiar with the meeting told CNN.
Navarro had brought a stack of paperwork about the drug with him into the room, arguing it was proof that it could work to treat coronavirus, which Fauci disagreed with because it was not data.
Axios first reported on the disagreement inside the White House about the drug.
On Monday, Navarro sought to defend his claim that hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating coronavirus, mentioning its use for hospitalized coronavirus patients and citing “numerous scientific studies that indicate potential efficacy.” Asked about the disagreement and how Fauci could be wrong about the efficacy of the drug, Navarro said, “I’ll let him speak for himself, John, but I would have two words for you: second opinion.”
He later said, “The issue wasn’t about me offering my medical opinion. The question was whether we should take the 29 million doses in the FEMA storehouses and surge them into the zones, and it was unanimous, John, in that task force meeting to do so on the advice of patient – to his doctor. So that’s the only question I posed.”
President Donald Trump, who has tested negative for coronavirus twice, has touted hydroxychloroquine as treatment for the virus, even saying, “I may take it” during a White House briefing Saturday. When CNN’s Jeremy Diamond asked Fauci to comment about the drug during an impromptu White House briefing Sunday night, Trump stepped in and didn’t allow Fauci to answer. A source said the doctor has already offered his opinion on the drug in other venues and would continue to do so.
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorizations to facilitate the distribution of the drug from the national stockpile, but the agency explicitly said in its authorization letter: “Chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate are not FDA-approved for treatment of COVID-19.”
In announcing a donation of hydroxychloroquine to the stockpile – along with chloroquine, a closely-related drug – the Department of Health and Human Services gave a tempered assessment of their potential benefits.
A statement said that “anecdotal reports suggest that these drugs may offer some benefit” in coronavirus patients, but “clinical trials are needed to provide scientific evidence that these treatments are effective.”
In a separate interview Monday morning with Fox News, Navarro said he agrees it’s important to have studies on the drug, but “there’s also the point of view that we are in war” and “we might take more risks than we otherwise would.”
“If it saves lives, that’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “I think history will judge who’s right on this debate, but I’d bet on President Trump’s intuition on this one, because of all the doctors I’ve talked to and all the scientific papers I’ve read and they’re about this high.”
This story has been updated with additional comment from Navarro and background information.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Kaitlan Collins and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.