U.S. President Donald Trump complained about the entertainment value of COVID-19 and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the White House, in a call with campaign staff on Monday.
The president claimed that Americans are getting “tired of” hearing about the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 220,000 Americans to date — more than any other nation in the world. Trump also dismissed Fauci’s coronavirus response as a “disaster,” though the president himself has spent several months downplaying the science and attempting to wish the virus away.
“People are tired of COVID. I have these huge rallies,” Trump said Monday. “People are saying whatever. Just leave us alone. They’re tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.”
Trump made the remarks on a call with his campaign team, which is facing an uphill battle in the polls against Joe Biden, the Democrats’ nominee for president in the Nov. 3 election. Several reporters were allowed to listen in on the call.
Trump also complained that “there’s always a bomb” when Fauci speaks in public. He then lamented that it would be a “bigger bomb if you fire him,” according to several reporters who were on the campaign call.
“Fauci is a disaster. If I listened to him, we’d have 500,000 deaths,” Trump said on the campaign call, according to CNN. He did not explain how social distancing and masks, which Fauci has recommended, might have doubled the current death toll.
The president is in the middle of a rally tour through the southwestern United States. He returned to the campaign trail earlier this month after recovering from the coronavirus.
Most Trump supporters are pictured without masks at his rallies, contrary to the advice of scientists around the world. A majority of Americans and Canadians support wearing masks in public, polls show.
Fauci told CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday that he wasn’t surprised when Trump came down with COVID-19 earlier this month, given the lack of social distancing and masks at a White House party in late September. Trump and several other Republican figures threw the party to celebrate the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
“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,” Fauci told CBS. “When I saw that on TV I said: ‘Oh my goodness, nothing good can come out of that. That’s gotta be a problem.’ And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event.”
Trump’s anti-Fauci comments were just the latest since the pandemic began. The president has repeatedly dismissed the dire warnings from Fauci and other scientists, while offering a more optimistic view of the virus that is not in step with reality, as he once admitted in private.
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The president has also tried to propose cures for the virus, including sunlight, bleach and hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that has not been proven to work against COVID-19.
He attempted to attack Biden for believing in science on Sunday, while preaching to a crowd of his largely maskless supporters.
“He’ll listen to the scientists,” Trump said at the rally. “If I listened to the scientists, we would have a country right now that would be in a massive depression instead of — we’re like a rocket ship.”
The U.S. economy isn’t actually like a rocket ship, as the overall picture remains a mixed bag of gains and losses due to the pandemic.
“This is tellingly out of touch and the polar opposite of reality,” Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates tweeted on Sunday.
Trump has retweeted calls to fire Fauci in the past, though he has not done so.
Fauci accused the Trump campaign of taking one of his public statements out of context earlier this month to boost the president’s re-election efforts.
“That ad clearly implies strongly that I’m endorsing a political candidate, and I have not given them my permission to do that,” Fauci said. “And in addition to that, the quote that they took is completely out of context.”
Trump continued his Fauci Twitter attacks later on Monday.
“All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in,'” Trump tweeted, seemingly referring to Fauci’s medical guidance in the early days of the pandemic.
Fauci and other health officials were slow to recommend mask use in March, though they became strong advocates for them in April. President Trump continues to downplay the importance of masks to this day.
Trump also appeared to be referring to the limited travel ban he imposed on China in late January. He frequently congratulates himself for that step, which occurred nine months and 220,000 deaths ago.
Trump did not confine his criticisms of Fauci to the pandemic. He also mocked the 79-year-old for having a “bad arm,” and said he should never have thrown out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals baseball team in July.
“Tony 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 (sic),” Trump tweeted, though he probably meant “espousing.”
“Number two, it keeps reminding me that Tony threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of Baseball!” Trump added.
Video evidence shows that 50 Cent threw a worse pitch for the York Mets, given the difference in age between him and Fauci.
The Nationals typically invite the sitting president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for their home opener each season. However, they invited Fauci — a lifelong fan — to do so this year, calling him a “true champion for our country.”
Nationals fans booed Trump at the World Series last year.
“Lock him up!” they chanted at one point. “Lock him up!”
Trump declined an invitation to throw out a pitch for the Nationals in 2017.
He seemingly invited himself to throw out a pitch for the New York Yankees last July, shortly after Fauci was announced for the Nationals. However, he later cancelled.
“We will make it later in the season!” Trump tweeted in cancelling the self-invite.
Trump, who is clinically obese, has said that he doesn’t exercise because he fears it will deplete his body’s energy.
He has not thrown out any pitches during his presidency, though he did throw paper towels once in Puerto Rico.
He has not followed through on rescheduling the Yankees appearance.
— With files from The Associated Press