President Trump said Monday that Americans are tired of hearing from Dr. Anthony Fauci and “all these idiots” about COVID-19, and he’d consider firing the health adviser except for the media backlash it would cause.
In a conference call with his campaign staff, Mr. Trump said people “are tired of COVID.”
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” Mr. Trump said, a day after Dr. Fauci appeared on “60 Minutes” on CBS and warned of a new surge in cases. “Fauci’s a nice guy, he’s been here for 500 years.”
He said Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is a “disaster” who is a “bomb” on TV.
Mr. Trump also went after Dr. Fauci, an adviser to his coronavirus task force, on Twitter and at a campaign rally in Arizona.
“Dr. Tony 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. “All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in.’”
Mr. Trump tweeted Dr. Fauci “should stop wearing the Washington Nationals’ Mask for two reasons. Number one, it is not up to the high standards that he should be exposing. Number two, it keeps reminding me that Tony threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of Baseball!”
It would be difficult for Mr. Trump to fire Dr. Fauci directly, though he could lean on the chain of command at the Department of Health and Human Services or National Institutes of Health to oust him. Even then, Dr. Fauci could appeal based on civil service protections that guard against political interference.
Rather, it would be easier for Mr. Trump to sideline the doctor or leave him out of coronavirus task force discussions.
Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden rebuked Mr. Trump for his attacks on Dr. Fauci, a decorated scientist who aided the federal response to health crises such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola and Zika.
“Coronavirus infections are spiking across the country, but President Trump decided to attack Dr. Fauci again today as a ‘disaster’ and call public health experts ‘idiots’ instead of laying out a plan to beat this virus or heeding their advice about how we can save lives and get our economy moving again,” Mr. Biden said. “President Trump even criticized me yesterday for listening to the scientists — that’s not an attack, that’s a badge of honor.”
Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander also defended the doctor, though didn’t call out Mr. Trump by name.
“Dr. Fauci is one of our country’s most distinguished public servants,” said the Tennessee Republican, who is retiring instead of seeking reelection. “He has served six presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan. 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.”
But Mr. Trump repeated his attacks at a campaign rally in Prescott, Arizona. He said that Dr. Fauci didn’t support his decision to restrict travel from China at the end of January and switched his position on masks, though the scientific reasoning around the need for face coverings evolved early in the pandemic.
“He is a wonderful guy, I like him, he just happens to have a very bad arm,” Mr. Trump said of Dr. Fauci.
Several media outlets reported on Mr. Trump’s campaign call earlier in the day.
He said at one point, “If there’s a reporter on, you can have it just the way I said it, I couldn’t care less.”
“We’re going to win,” the president told staffers. “I wouldn’t have told you that maybe two or three weeks ago. My people are doing a great job.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.