Donald Trump has called one of the experts leading the US response to the coronavirus crisis, Dr Anthony Fauci, “a disaster”.
In a call with his campaign staff in Las Vegas on Monday, the US president said: “People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.
“Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb. But there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci’s a disaster.”
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That may be a reference to an interview Dr Fauci, the US’s leading infectious disease expert, gave on Sunday in which he said he was not surprised Mr Trump caught coronavirus after attending large events with few face coverings.
“I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask,” he told 60 Minutes.
Dr Fauci has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and serves on Mr Trump’s own White House coronavirus response task force.
The pair have repeatedly been at odds over how to best handle the pandemic. The outbreak has led to the deaths of more than 220,000 Americans.
Mr Trump told staff, “With Fauci, if we listen to him, we’d have 700-800 thousand deaths right now”.
The pair also recently fell out over a campaign advertisement in which the doctor appeared to back the president’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.
But Dr Fauci insisted he had never endorsed a political candidate, and said he did not agree to be featured in the advert and the comments made by him in it were taken out of context.
At an election rally in Prescott, Arizona, Mr Trump mocked his presidential rival, Joe Biden, for listening to the advice of scientific experts, saying dismissively that his Democrat opponent “wants to listen to Dr Fauci”.
However, Mr Biden later issued a statement, attacking the president for his repeated attacks on Dr Fauci.
“Mr President, you’re right about one thing: the American people are tired. They’re tired of your lies about this virus,” he said.
“They’re tired of watching more Americans die and more people lose their jobs because you refuse to take this pandemic seriously.”
Republican senator Lamar Alexander, also defended Dr Fauci, calling him one of the nation’s “most distinguished public servants”.
With two weeks until the 3 November election, Mr Trump is trailing Mr Biden in most opinion polls but denies he is “running scared”.
“I think I’m running angry. I’m running happy and I’m running very content (because) I’ve done a great job,” he told reporters before taking off for Tucson, Arizona, for his fifth rally in three days.
Microphones will be muted for parts of the final TV election debate between the pair on Thursday, it has been announced.
More than 8.2 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded across the US, with case numbers spiking after the widespread lifting of state lockdowns imposed to curb the pandemic earlier this year.