WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump has slammed Dr Anthony Fauci as "a disaster", saying, despite signs that the nation was headed towards 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 on Monday, just two weeks before election day, was hardly the closing message Mr Trump's 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.
Dr Fauci has been separating himself from the White House and warning Americans to "hunker down" and brace themselves for a difficult winter - a message at odds with Mr Trump's repeated 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 last 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 per cent from the average two weeks earlier.
In a radio interview on Monday night, Dr Fauci dismissed the President's comments as a distraction, referring to a well-known book about the Mafia. "That other stuff, it's like in The Godfather: Nothing personal, strictly business. As far as I'm concerned, I just want to do my job and take care of the people of this country," he told Southern California radio station KNX1070.
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. "The administration's coronavirus strategy is fundamentally rooted in the bedrock objective of saving lives and helping our country safely open and stay open," said Mr Michael Bars, a White House spokesman.
"As always, coronavirus-related matters receive appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts."