By Kelly Mena, CNN
The White House on Saturday unleashed on Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, following his comments to the Washington Post that criticized the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, including Dr. Scott Atlas, who the President has relied on for advice on handling the coronavirus.
“It’s unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President’s Coronavirus Taskforce and someone who has praised President (Donald) Trump’s actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement to CNN on Saturday evening.
Deere took issue with Fauci’s comments where the doctor seemingly praises Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign. Fauci told the Post that the Democratic nominee’s campaign “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective.” While Trump, Fauci said, is “looking at it from a different perspective.” He said that perspective was “the economy and reopening the country,” according to the Post.
“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 said.
Fauci, a leading member of the government’s coronavirus response, said the United States needed to make an “abrupt change” in public health practices and behaviors, according to the Post. He said the country could surpass 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day and predicted rising deaths in the coming weeks.
“Dr. Fauci knows that the risks today are dramatically lower than they were only a few months ago with mortality rates falling over 80%. The Trump Administration, through the work of the Task Force, continues to surge testing, PPE, personnel, and capacity to protect the vulnerable, help schools reopen, and respond to conditions on the ground,” Deere said.
In Friday’s interview with the Post, Fauci also criticized Atlas, a neuroradiologist and Trump’s hand-picked coronavirus adviser, for his lack of expertise.
“I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said. “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.”
Atlas responded to Fauci on Twitter, tweeting on Saturday night: “#Insecurity #EmbarrassingHimself #Exposed #CantThrowABall #NoTimeForPolitics.”
Atlas on Saturday made dubious claims in a 27-minute interview to RT, the propaganda network that had played a major role in the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election and later was forced to formally register with the Justice Department as an agent of the Russian government.
“New interview. Lockdowns, facts, frauds … if you can’t handle truth, use a mask to cover your eyes and ears,” Atlas, who has misrepresented the effectiveness of masks and discouraged testing of asymptomatic people, tweeted along with the interview.
On Sunday, Atlas apologized for doing that interview, tweeting, “I recently did an interview with RT and was unaware they are a registered foreign agent. I regret doing the interview and apologize for allowing myself to be taken advantage of. I especially apologize to the national security community who is working hard to defend us.”
Atlas did not have clearance from the White House for the interview — which RT said was done on White House property — and senior aides raised concerns internally after Atlas appeared on the network, a senior White House official told CNN.
Fauci, in his remarks to the Post, gave a grim warning of a Covid-19 surge as the country heads into fall and winter.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Fauci said. “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.”
Deere pushed back on this warning Saturday, saying, “Dr. Fauci may have just admitted that he is afraid the cure will be worse than the disease and that unlike the President he has no confidence in the American people to make the best choice for themselves armed with CDC best practices.”
Fauci’s comments came the same day that the US reported 99,321 new Covid-19 cases — the highest single day number of cases recorded for any country. As of Saturday evening, the country’s death toll from the pandemic has topped 230,000.
Meanwhile, 29 states set new records this month for the most new daily cases since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Fauci’s assessment of the country’s handling of the pandemic also comes as Trump has continued to insist on holding huge rallies — including four in Pennsylvania on Saturday alone — which only draws attention to the fact that he is dangerously flouting the safety guidelines of his own experts at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, daring Americans to hold him accountable for it on Election Day.
This isn’t the first time Fauci has disagreed with the Trump administration for their handling of the pandemic. Earlier this month, the President trashed Fauci as a “disaster” and made baseless coronavirus claims in a campaign call.
Referring to Fauci and other health officials as “idiots,” Trump declared the country ready to move on from the health disaster, even as 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 United States, Trump portrayed the recommendations offered by his own administration to mitigate the spread of the disease as a burdensome annoyance.
“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.”
White House communications director Alyssa Farah said Sunday that the President still has faith in Fauci. In a separate Fox News interview, Farah also said she spoke with Fauci Sunday morning and that at times the administration reminds him that he sits on the White House coronavirus task force and should voice his concerns.
“He’s somebody who’s highly respected but at times we remind him, you sit on this task force. If you have concerns about our response effort, then please by all means raise them, but a lot of us are working around the clock, the President being the number one person to defeat this virus,” she said.
During the Post interview, Fauci noted he needed to be careful with his answers or he might be blocked from doing further appearances.
Fauci and others have said they are worried about regions of the country that may not be prepared to deal with another surge of infections because they of limits on intensive care beds and nurses who can treat increasing amounts of patients, according to the Post.
“It’s much more about some of the states like Utah, Nevada, South Dakota, North Dakota, where … they never had a pretty good reserve of intensive care beds and things like that. I hope they’ll be okay, but it’s still a risk that, as you get more surging, they’re going to run out of capacity,” Fauci said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Sunday.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Marshall Cohen, Nicky Robertson, Jason Hoffman, Maeve Reston, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.