Donald Trump has insisted that he gets on with Dr Anthony Fauci just a day after claiming that the American people are tired of listening to the US’s top infectious disease specialist.
But the president also said that the doctor who has clashed with him at times over coronavirus is not “a team player”.
Mr Trump’s strained relationship with Dr Fauci has political overtones as the president defends his record on coronavirus just two weeks before election day, with polls showing him trailing Democrat Joe Biden in key battleground states.
“He’s a nice guy,” Mr Trump said of Dr Fauci in a telephone interview with “Fox & Friends” from the White House ahead of an evening rally in Pennsylvania.
“The only thing I say is he’s a little bit sometimes not a team player,” Mr Trump added, denying that the two were “at odds”.
Mr Trump is facing pressure to turn around his campaign and hoping for the type of last-minute surge that gave him a come-from-behind victory four years ago.
“I’m not running scared,” Mr Trump told reporters during his western campaign swing. “I’m running angry. I’m running happy, and I’m running very content cause I’ve done a great job.”
Seeking to shore up the morale of his staff amid growing private concerns that he is running out of time to make up lost ground, Mr Trump criticised his government’s own scientific experts as too negative, even as his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 people in the United States, remains a central issue to voters.
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” Mr Trump said of the government’s top infectious disease expert. “Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb. But there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci’s a disaster.”
At a rally in Prescott, Arizona, Mr Trump assailed Mr Biden for pledging to heed the advice of scientific experts, saying dismissively that his rival “wants to listen to Dr. Fauci”.
Mr Trump’s rejection of scientific advice on the pandemic has already drawn bipartisan condemnation.
At his rally, Mr Trump also ramped up his attacks on the news media, singling out NBC’s Kristen Welker, the moderator of the next presidential debate.
He continued to criticise her on Tuesday, saying she cannot be neutral.
Mr Biden was off the campaign trail on Monday, but his campaign praised Dr Fauci and criticised Mr Trump for “reckless and negligent leadership” that “threatens to put more lives at risk”.
“Trump’s closing message in the final days of the 2020 race is to publicly mock Joe Biden for trusting science and to call Dr Fauci, the leading public health official on Covid-19, a ‘disaster’ and other public health officials ‘idiots’,” the campaign said.
Mr Biden was in Delaware for several days of preparation ahead of Thursday’s final presidential debate.
His running mate Kamala Harris returned to the campaign trail after several days in Washington after a close adviser tested positive for coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced that Mr Trump and Mr Biden will each have his microphone cut off in Thursday’s debate while his rival delivers his opening two-minute answer to each of the six debate topics.
The rule changes come three weeks after a chaotic opening face-off between the two presidential contenders that featured frequent interruptions.
People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiotsDonald Trump
The open discussion portion of the debate will not feature a mute button but interruptions by either candidate will count toward their time.
The commission has faced pressure from the Trump campaign to avoid changing the rules, while Mr Biden’s team was hoping for a more ordered debate.
In a statement, the commission said it “had determined that it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules”.
Mr Trump’s campaign said he would participate in the debate despite his concerns about the new rule.
“I just think it’s very unfair,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned from Arizona. “I will participate, but it’s very unfair that they changed the topics and it’s very unfair that, again, we have an anchor who’s totally biased.”