White House trade advisor Peter Navarro said Monday that he is qualified to disagree with Dr. Anthony Fauci on coronavirus research because "I'm a social scientist."
"Doctors disagree about things all of the time. My qualifications in terms of looking at the science is that I'm a social scientist, Ph.D.," Navarro told CNN's John Berman during a televised interview. "I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it's in medicine, the law, economics or whatever."
Navarro is White House director of trade and manufacturing policy, and Fauci has led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Navarro earned an economics Ph.D. from Harvard, according to the White House.
The two officials reportedly tangled over administration messaging on hydroxychloroquine, a lupus and rheumatoid arthritis drug being studied for possible COVID-19 treatment, during a meeting in the White House Situation Room on Saturday.
Fauci said that research on the drug's effectiveness against the new coronavirus was anecdotal, while Navarro countered it was "science, not anecdote," according to the news website Axios, which first reported on the blowup.
President Donald Trump has also championed the use of hydroxycloroquine for COVID-19 patients, saying it could be a "game-changer."
Navarro acknowledged the dispute with Fauci, saying in the interview on CNN that "if we didn't have disagreement and debate in the Trump administration, this administration wouldn't be as strong as it is."
He said that he could not speak for Fauci, but doubled-down on his ability to counter the 79-year-old National Medal of Science recipient, who has written or edited 1,300 scientific publications according to his official biography.
"I'd let him speak for himself, John," Navarro said. "But I would have two words for you. Second opinion."
Navarro also referred Berman to Dr. William Grace, an oncologist in New York, who has touted the use of hydroxycloroquine on Fox News.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists hydroxycloroquine as among the potential therapeutic options to treat COVID-19 but cautions that there are no data from randomized clinical trials that could inform use or dosage.
Navarro, 70, has come under scrutiny for techniques used in his past writings. The China hawk has acknowledged attributing commentary to a made-up alter ego, Ron Vara, in his nonfiction books like "Death by China" and "The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won."
After the alter ego was discovered to not be a real person, Navarro said it was "refreshing that somebody finally figured out an inside joke that has been hiding in plain sight for years."