Donald Trump lashed out at Anthony Fauci, a top White House coronavirus task force member, calling him a “disaster” as the US president attempted to deflect attention from his handling of the pandemic with just two weeks until the election.
In a call with his campaign on Monday, Mr Trump played down the severity of the pandemic, which has killed almost 220,000 Americans, and said the public was tired of hearing of warnings from scientists.
“People are tired of listening to Fauci and these idiots,” Mr Trump said, according to reports of the call in US media. “Every day he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him . . . Fauci is a disaster.”
His comments came the morning after Dr Fauci, who has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, told CBS television that he was not surprised Mr Trump had caught Covid-19.
Dr Fauci told the network he had been extremely concerned about the White House’s decision to hold an event last month to announce Amy Coney Barrett as Mr Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court.
Several people who attended the event, including two senators and Chris Christie, the former Republican New Jersey governor, contracted the disease. There was no social distancing at the event and very few attendees wore masks.
Hours after hitting out at Dr Fauci on the call, Mr Trump took to Twitter to continue his tirade against the 79-year-old, who has protection from the secret service because of threats he has received over his stance on Covid-19.
In recent months, Dr Fauci has been partly sidelined from the task force, as Mr Trump has relied on advice from Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with little experience in infectious diseases who has alienated many of his colleagues by pushing a “herd immunity” strategy.
“Fauci says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope,” Mr Trump tweeted en route to Arizona for a rally, referring to the late comedian.
Mr Trump erroneously claimed that Dr Fauci had argued against mask wearing and had opposed his decision to block many flights from China earlier this year.
He also mocked him over his baseball skills, in a reference to his being asked to throw the first pitch in the Major League Baseball season this year.
“Tony threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of Baseball!” he wrote.
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The attack on Dr Fauci came just over two weeks from the election day, with Mr Trump trailing his Democratic opponent Joe Biden by more than nine points, according to a Financial Times analysis of data from RealClearPolitics. Mr Biden also leads Mr Trump in every swing state except Iowa, highlighting the increasingly steep path the president faces if he is to win re-election.
A significant majority of Americans disapprove of the way Mr Trump has handled the pandemic. In recent days, a small number of Republicans have started to distance themselves from the president amid signs that the Republican party could suffer on November 3 because of the approach that he has taken to Covid-19.
Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator from Tennessee, on Monday defended Dr Fauci against the attacks.
“Dr Fauci is one of our country’s most distinguished public servants. He has served six presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan,” he said. “If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of Covid-19 and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat.”
Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey
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