President Donald Trump criticized his top infectious disease advisor this week while Dr. Anthony Fauci separately admitted he hasn’t briefed the president on the coronavirus pandemic in at least two months — revealing an apparent widening in the rift between the two.
“Dr. Fauci’s a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday. “They’ve been wrong about a lot of things, including face masks. Maybe they’re wrong, maybe not. A lot of them said don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. Now they’re saying wear a mask. A lot of mistakes were made, a lot of mistakes.”
It’s not the first time Trump has contradicted or criticized advice from the White House coronavirus task force, which is led by Vice President Mike Pence.
Earlier this week, Trump said he disagreed with Fauci’s characterization of the outbreak.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned lawmakers at a Senate hearing last week that cases could surpass 100,000 new infections a day if the virus continues to spread at its current pace.
“I’m very concerned and I’m not satisfied with what’s going on because we’re going in the wrong direction if you look at the curves of the new cases, so we really have got to do something about that and we need to do it quickly,” he testified before the the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Fauci reiterated his concern in an interview on Facebook Live on Tuesday. “We are still knee deep in the first wave” of Covid-19 infections, he said.
When asked later Tuesday about Fauci’s assessment of the pandemic, Trump replied, “I disagree with him.”
“I think we are in a good place,” the president said in an interview with the “Full Court Press” show. “We’ve done a good job. I think we are going to be in two, three, four weeks … I think we are going to be in very good shape.”
Fauci then told The Wall Street Journal Wednesday that states with rapidly expanding coronavirus outbreaks should seriously consider “shutting down” like the country did when the virus first hit the U.S. in March. Trump and Pence, however, have vowed to keep reopening America and spent most of the week pressuring state leaders to reopen schools this fall.
Fauci, who’s become the leading voice in the nation’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, has consistently warned about the escalating dilemma facing the U.S. as daily new cases continue to top records and infections spike in states such as Florida, Texas, California and Arizona.
But his voice might not be as loud as it once was inside the White House, where he’s advised six presidents over the course of his career. He admitted in an interview with the Financial Times on Thursday that he hasn’t seen Trump at the White House since early June and hasn’t briefed him on the pandemic in at least two months.
Fauci added that he’s “sure” his messages have been passed on to the president. A White House spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Fauci and Trump also diverged on the coronavirus pandemic early on in the U.S. outbreak. In April, Fauci told CNN more lives “obviously” could have been saved if the U.S. made earlier efforts to contain the virus. He later walked back those comments after Trump retweeted a call to “#FireFauci.”
“I was asked a hypothetical question” about whether lives could have been saved if mitigation policies were put in place earlier, “and hypothetical questions sometimes can get you into some difficulty,” Fauci said at the time.
However, some recent polls suggest the nation disagrees with Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as cases continue to spike in the American West and South. A CNBC/Change Research poll published July 1 shows voters in six key swing states didn’t view the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic favorably.
When asked to select two people or groups most responsible for the recent increase in hospitalizations, 35% said the president — the largest share among the answers. Trump was followed by “people not wearing masks” at 34%, “states reopening their economies too soon” at 32% and “people not social distancing” at 29%.
The results were mirrored in new data from an NBC News/SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll on Tuesday that found Americans have significantly more confidence in their governors than in the president when it comes to handling the coronavirus.
— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger, Christina Wilkie, Will Feuer and Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.