The White House is strongly pushing back on a new interview in which Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said the U.S. is in a terrible position to face the upcoming months of the pandemic.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Washington Post on Friday. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
Fauci said the country needs to make an “abrupt change” in its public health practices and behaviors as the holiday season nears. He also said 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective” while President Donald Trump is “looking at it from a different perspective,” which he said was “the economy and reopening the country.”
In a lengthy statement, White House spokesman Judd Deere called it “unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce and someone who has praised President Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics.”
“As a member of the Task Force, Dr. Fauci has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy, but he’s not done that, instead choosing to criticize the president in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the president’s opponent — exactly what the American people have come to expect from The Swamp,” Deere continued, adding that Fauci “has no confidence in the American people to make the best choice for themselves armed with CDC best practices.”
This latest update in tensions between top Trump allies and Fauci comes as new infections are on the rise in most states. Case counts have reached records highs in recent days — nearly hitting 100,000 in a single day just last week. Hospitalizations are also on the rise and are now at their highest level since mid-August. The daily death toll has crossed 1,000 in recent days after having spent much of the last two months below that level.
So far, more than 9 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S., as well as upwards of 232,000 deaths, according to an NBC News tracker.
The president, however, has continually insisted the U.S. is “rounding the corner” in fighting the pandemic, praising the therapeutics he was provided with during his personal bout with Covid-19 earlier this month. The president has lamented media coverage of the pandemic and, during a recent phone call with staff, called Fauci a “disaster” and public health experts “idiots.”
“The Fake News Media is riding COVID, COVID, COVID, all the way to the Election,” Trump tweeted last week. “Losers!”
Trump and Fauci not been in regular contact for months, according to a person close to Fauci. Last month, the president and Fauci feuded over the infectious disease expert’s words being used in a Trump campaign ad — an ad in which Fauci said he was taken “out of context.”
In his Washington Post interview, Fauci also took aim at Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who isn’t an expert in infectious diseases and who Trump has leaned on in recent months over other advisers like Fauci. Last month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield was overheard on a phone call saying of Atlas: “Everything he says is false.”
Atlas has pushed more aggressively to reopen sectors of the economy, even claiming that masks don’t work to stop the spread of coronavirus in a tweet that Twitter subsequently removed from the site. This weekend, Atlas appeared for an interview with Russian state media that he promoted online, tweeting, “if you can’t handle truth, use a mask to cover your eyes and ears.”
“I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said of Atlas. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”
In response, Atlas tweeted: “#Insecurity #EmbarrassingHimself #Exposed #CantThrowABall #NoTimeForPolitics,” making a reference to Fauci’s first pitch at a Washington Nationals game this summer.
The president’s messaging on the pandemic was a central topic on the Sunday political talk shows. In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, criticized Trump for claiming without evidence last week that doctors are making up Covid-19 deaths to make money.
“That is just such a stupid thing to say,” Evers said.
Speaking with ABC’s “This Week,” Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller was pushed on Trump’s comments about doctors.
“I don’t think he was attacking anybody at all. I think he was talking about how most Americans want to safely and securely re-open the country, get back to work, get back to life as normal and defeat this virus,” he said.
Biden campaign senior adviser Anita Dunn pushed back on Miller’s comments later in the program.
“Joe Biden respects those frontline workers,” she added. “He respects doctors. He respects Dr. Fauci. He listens to the scientists. And when he is president, he’s going to put a plan in place to get coronavirus under control.”
Monica Alba contributed.