US President Donald Trump has suggested he will fire the country’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci after Tuesday’s election.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Opa-locka, Florida, Mr Trump expressed frustration that the surging cases of coronavirus that has killed more than 230,000 Americans so far this year remains prominent in the news.
Responding to chants of “Fire Fauci” from his supporters, Mr Trump told his supporters he appreciated their “advice” and added: “Don’t tell anybody but let me wait until a little bit after the election.”
Mr Trump’s comments on Dr Fauci less than 48 hours before polls close all but assure that his handling of the pandemic will remain front and centre heading into election day.
It is the most direct Mr Trump has been in suggesting he was serious about trying to remove Dr Fauci from his position. He has previously expressed that he was concerned about the political blowback of removing the popular and respected doctor before the election.
Mr Trump’s comments come after Dr Fauci levelled his sharpest criticism yet of the White House’s response to the coronavirus and Mr Trump’s public assertion that the nation is “rounding the turn” on the virus.
Dr Fauci has grown outspoken that Mr Trump has ignored his advice for containing the virus, saying he has not spoken with Mr Trump in more than a month. He has raised alarm that the nation was heading for a challenging winter if more is not done soon to slow the spread of the disease.
In an interview with the Washington Post this weekend, Dr Fauci cautioned that the US will have to deal with “a whole lot of hurt” in the weeks ahead due to surging coronavirus cases.
Dr Fauci said the US “could not possibly be positioned more poorly” to stem rising cases as more people gather indoors during the colder autumn and winter months. He says the US will need to make an “abrupt change” in public health precautions.
Dr Fauci added that he believed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective,” while Mr Trump is “looking at it from a different perspective”.
Dr Fauci, who’s on the White House coronavirus task force, said that perspective emphasises “the economy and reopening the country”.
In response, White House spokesman Judd Deere said Mr Trump always puts people’s wellbeing first and Mr Deere claims Dr Fauci has decided “to play politics” right before Tuesday’s election. Mr Deere said Dr Fauci “has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy” but instead is “choosing to criticise the president in the media and make his political leanings known”.
Mr Trump in recent days has stepped up his attacks on Mr Biden for pledging to heed the advice of scientists in responding to the pandemic. Mr Trump has claimed Mr Biden would “lock down” the nation once again. Mr Biden has promised to heed the warnings of Dr Fauci and other medical professionals but has not endorsed another national lockdown.
Mr Trump has recently relied on the advice of Stanford doctor Scott Atlas, who has no prior background in infectious diseases or public health, as his lead science adviser on the pandemic. Dr Atlas has been a public sceptic about mask wearing and other measures widely accepted by the scientific community to slow the spread of the virus.
Other members of the White House coronavirus task force have grown increasingly vocal about what they see as a dangerous autumn spike in the virus.