A frustrated and at times foul-mouthed President Donald Trump claimed on a campaign call that people are tired of hearing about the deadly pandemic which has killed more than 215,000 Americans and trashed Dr Anthony Fauci as a "disaster" who has been around for "500 years", reports CNN.
Referring to Fauci and other health officials as "idiots", Trump declared the country ready to move on from the health disaster, even as cases are again spiking and medical experts warn the worst may be yet to come.
Baselessly claiming that if Fauci was in charge more than half a million people would be dead in the US, Trump portrayed the recommendations offered by his own administration to mitigate spread of the disease as a burdensome annoyance, wrote CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak on 20 October 2020.
"People are tired of COVID. I have the biggest rallies I've ever had, and we have COVID," Trump said, phoning into a call with campaign staff from his namesake hotel in Las Vegas, where he spent two nights amid a western campaign swing.
"People are saying whatever. Just leave us alone. They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots."
"Fauci is a nice guy," Trump went on. "He's been here for 500 years."
After having Trump's comments read back to him during a radio appearance, Fauci dismissed them as a "distraction."
“I would prefer not to comment on that and just get on with what we are really trying to do and what we are trying to do is to protect the health and welfare and safety of the American people predominantly, and ultimately, of the world," he said. "We are seeing an uptick in cases — higher than they’ve ever been. Many, many states that had been doing reasonably well are now showing upticks, that’s what we should be concentrating on."
He added he doesn't want to create a “me against the president” mentality, calling it unhelpful.
Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and is a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
At almost the same time Trump was fuming on the phone, Fauci was being awarded the National Academy of Medicine's first-ever Presidential Citation for Exemplary Leadership during a virtual ceremony.
Fauci said that he was "speechless" while receiving the recognition, reports CNN.
"We have a lot of challenges ahead of us and I can't help thinking that we're really going through a time that's disturbingly anti-science in certain segments of our society," Fauci said during the virtual event.
Trump openly criticised Fauci as his campaign is currently airing a television ad featuring the doctor that implies Fauci endorsed Trump's handling of the pandemic. Fauci has disputed the ad, saying his words were taken out of context, and asked the campaign to take it down, according to CNN.
But the ad was widely seen as an acknowledgment by the president's campaign staff that Fauci has credibility with voters who have rejected Trump's response.
The president is trailing in polling to Democratic rival Joe Biden part due to his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump recently returned to the campaign trail after being diagnosed with the virus himself and has shunned public health protocols for his political rallies.
On the call, the President again mocked Biden's social distancing measures, CNN reports.
As he barnstorms electoral battlegrounds, Trump has been casting about for a closing message that resonates with voters addled by the virus and wary of his response. Attempts by his advisers to convince Trump to adopt a more serious tone about the pandemic have been halting.
At a rally in Nevada on Sunday, Trump attempted to attack Biden by saying his rival would "listen to the scientists" if elected president.
By contrast, reports CNN, Trump has stopped attending meetings of his coronavirus task force, which has waned dramatically in influence. Instead the president has relied on the counsel of Dr Scott Atlas, a radiologist whose views on mask wearing and other mitigation practices are at odds with nearly every scientific opinion.
The dynamic has caused tensions among the government's health officials, including with Fauci, whose warnings about the virus Trump has bristled at for months.
"Fauci is a disaster. If I listened to him, we'd have 500,000 deaths," he said on the campaign call on Monday, before later saying it would be 700,000 or 800,000.
"If there's a reporter on, you can have it just the way I said it, I couldn't care less," Trump said. CNN was given access to the call by a source.
Trump's attempt to shore up his campaign staff 15 days before Election Day came amid widespread worries among Republicans that his inability to hone a final message will have dire effects not only for his own race but for control of the US Senate.
CNN – Trump trashes Fauci and makes baseless coronavirus claims in campaign call