The White House is strongly pushing back against an interview in which Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading infectious disease expert, said the U.S. is in a terrible position to face the coming months of the coronavirus 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 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 said it was "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."
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 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 upward of 232,000 deaths, according to an NBC News tracker.
Trump, however, has continually insisted that 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 last month. Trump has lamented media coverage of the pandemic and, during a recent phone call with staff members, 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 haven't been in regular contact for months, according to a person close to Fauci. Last month, they feuded over the use of Fauci's words in a Trump campaign ad, in which Fauci said he was taken "out of context."
In his Post interview, Fauci also took aim at Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who isn't an expert in infectious diseases but whom Trump has leaned on in recent months over other advisers, like Fauci. Last month, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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 the coronavirus in a tweet that Twitter 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."
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In response, Atlas tweeted: "#Insecurity #EmbarrassingHimself #Exposed #CantThrowABall #NoTimeForPolitics," referring to Fauci's first pitch at a Washington Nationals game this summer.
Atlas apologized Sunday for the Russia Today interview, tweeting that he regrets having participated and "was unaware they are a registered foreign agent."
The president's messaging about the pandemic was a central topic on the Sunday political talk shows. In an interview on 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 on ABC News' "This Week," Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller was pushed about 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 reopen 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 against Miller's comments later in the program.
"Joe Biden respects those front-line workers," she said. "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."