With two weeks remaining in his re-election campaign, President Trump made the coronavirus his message and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci his foil, dismissing scientific advisers as “these idiots.”
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Maggie Haberman and Noah Weiland
WASHINGTON — President Trump attacked Dr. Anthony S. Fauci as “a disaster” on Monday and said, despite signs that the nation was headed toward another coronavirus peak, that people were “tired” of hearing about the virus from “these idiots” in the government.
The broadside, during a conference call with campaign staff just two weeks before Election Day, was hardly the closing message Trump advisers were looking for. It threatened to focus the electorate squarely on the president’s coronavirus response and pitted him against Dr. Fauci, who as the nation’s top infectious disease expert is a career government scientist the public likes and trusts far more than Mr. Trump.
In increasingly vocal terms, Dr. Fauci has been separating himself from the White House and warning Americans to “hunker down” and brace for a difficult winter — a message at odds with Mr. Trump’s repeated, if false, assurances that the nation is “rounding the corner” on a pandemic that has claimed about 220,000 American lives.
“People are tired of Covid,” Mr. Trump complained on the call, which several reporters were invited into. “I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had. And we have Covid. People are saying: ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it.”
He added, “People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong.”
Dr. Fauci’s cautionary words are borne out by the numbers. More than 70,450 new coronavirus cases were reported in the United States on Friday, the highest figure since July 24, according to a New York Times database. More than 900 new deaths were recorded. And over the past week, there have been an average of 56,615 cases per day, an increase of 30 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
But beyond pushing for a vaccine, the Trump administration has refrained from confronting the threat aggressively, pushing instead to fully open the economy and get children back in school.
The White House coronavirus task force, which met daily at the outset of the pandemic, now meets about once a week and hosts a weekly conference call with governors, typically to address specific topics like testing and nursing home guidance. Its agenda is largely focused on nuts-and-bolts matters like vaccine reimbursements, state and national stockpiles and whether cruise ships should be allowed to sail.
“The administration’s coronavirus strategy is fundamentally rooted in the bedrock objective of saving lives and helping our country safely open and stay open,” Michael Bars, a White House spokesman, said. “As always, coronavirus-related matters receive appropriate attention, consultation, and input from Task Force experts.”
But the composition of the task force is changing.
Mr. Trump’s pandemic adviser, Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no experience in infectious disease or epidemiology, is a rising power within the White House, embracing a response that calls for allowing the coronavirus to spread naturally while protecting only the most vulnerable. Over the weekend, Twitter removed a post in which Dr. Atlas questioned the efficacy of mask wearing, decreeing it misinformation.
Such ideas have led to internal clashes — and sometimes turf wars — pitting Dr. Atlas against Dr. Fauci and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator.
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