President Donald Trump slammed his administration's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, during a conference call with his campaign staff, calling him a "disaster," according to Axios, The Associated Press and NBC News.
During the call, Trump reportedly claimed, without evidence, that more than 800,000 people would have died of COVID-19 by now "if I listened to him." As of Monday, more than 200,000 have died of COVID-19.
Trump also called Fauci a "nice guy," who had been in his position for "500 years." Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
During the call, Trump added that he would be unable to remove Fauci from his position without significant public backlash.
"Every time he goes on television, there's always a bomb, but there's a bigger bomb if you fire him. This guy's a disaster," Trump said.
Trump added during his campaign call that he believed Americans were ready to move on from the COVID-19 crisis.
"People are tired of COVID. I have these huge rallies," Trump said, according to CNN. "People are saying whatever. Just leave us alone. They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots."
Trump's comments came a day after Fauci was interviewed on 60 Minutes. During that interview, Fauci said he was "absolutely not surprised" to learn that Trump had contracted COVID-19 earlier this month, citing the fact that the President often appeared in large crowds without a mask.
Fauci, one of the most plain-spoken members of the White House's coronavirus task force, has said that the Trump administration has taken steps during the pandemic to limit his media appearances. He also criticized the Trump campaign last week after he said it used an interview clip taken in March out of context and without his permission in an ad that has been targeted to key swing states.
On Monday, former Vice President Joe Biden issued the following statement on Trump's comments on Dr. Fauci:
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. President Trump even criticized me yesterday for listening to the scientists — that’s not an attack, that’s a badge of honor. Waving a white flag and saying “it is what it is” is unacceptable when thousands of American lives are being taken each week when businesses are closing and schools remain shuttered. The American people have never backed down from a challenge, but they need a leader to show the way and all President Trump has done is cower and wallow in self-pity. Mr. President, you’re right about one thing: the American people are tired. They’re tired of your lies about this virus. They’re tired of watching more Americans die and more people lose their jobs because you refuse to take this pandemic seriously. Now, more than ever, we need a leader to bring us together, put a plan in place, and beat this virus — but you have proven yourself yet again to be incapable of doing that.