By The Washington Post · David Nakamura, Josh Dawsey, Yasmeen Abutaleb · NATIONAL, HEALTH, POLITICS, HEALTH-NEWS
Trump on Tuesday responded to Fauci's warnings that the president's decision to resume campaign rallies this week was "very troublesome" by mocking him in a tweet that unfavorably compared his medical guidance to his errant ceremonial first pitch at a Washington Nationals' game in July.
"Actually, Tony's pitching arm is far more accurate than his prognostications," Trump wrote, erroneously suggesting that Fauci's advice in the early days of the pandemic that the public need not wear face masks meant that the doctor was playing down the virus.
The president's nasty personal attack offered more evidence of the large gulf between the government's top two public messengers on the pandemic, who have consistently contradicted one another. Trump has repeatedly undercut Fauci's advice and sought to minimize the threat of a virus that has killed at least 215,000 Americans, while the doctor has tacitly criticized the president for failing to follow basic safeguards such as wearing a mask and social distancing.
Trump has not met individually with Fauci in more than a month, White House aides said, keeping tabs mostly by watching his appearances on cable news shows.
The latest tensions, though, illustrate a conundrum for Trump, who has sought to win public confidence with a relatively quick rebound from his own coronavirus diagnosis that forced him into a three-night stay at Walter Reed National Medical Center this month.
Though he has continued to denigrate Fauci, his campaign offered an acknowledgment of the public's high regard for the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases by including an out-of-context clip of him in a recent advertisement - a move that angered Fauci.
The ad, which tout the president as "sparing no expense" to protect seniors from the virus, includes a brief video of Fauci saying, "I can't imagine that anybody could be doing more" - a comment he made during a Fox News interview in March. The full interview makes clear, however, that Fauci was speaking about the White House's coronavirus task force, of which he is a member, and not about the president.
Fauci, 79, said in a statement Sunday that he had never endorsed a political candidate in his nearly five decades of public service. In an interview with the Daily Beast on Monday, Fauci demanded the Trump campaign remove the clip. "By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me," he said.
Fauci, who has said he is not considering resigning, declined to comment for this story.
In an email, Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director, did not respond to the accusations that the clip took him out of context. Asked about Fauci's warning about Trump's campaign rallies - including one in Sanford, Fla., on Monday that drew thousands of supporters - Murtaugh emphasized that the president's events are generally "being held in open-air airplane hangars."
Murtaugh added that the campaign is "screening everyone with temperature checks, providing masks which people are instructed to wear, and providing hand sanitizer. No matter how much the media and Democrats want to keep President Trump off the campaign trail, he's going to talk to Americans and do it safely."
Trump was scheduled to continue a daily slate of campaign events with a rally in Johnstown, Pa., on Tuesday evening, before heading to Des Moines, on Wednesday.
"That is asking for trouble when you do that," Fauci said on CNN on Monday. "We've seen that when you have situations of congregate settings where there are a lot of people without masks, the data speak for themselves. It happens. And now is even more so a worse time to do that, because when you look at what's going on in the United States, it's really very troublesome."
On Tuesday, Minnesota health officials tied 15 coronavirus cases to a pair of Trump rallies in the state and three more to an event with Vice President Mike Pence in Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Another four cases were tied to protests around Trump's visit, along with one case tied to an event held with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Trump and Fauci have existed in a state of uneasy tension for months with semiregular flare ups as the doctor has sought to offer public guidance through his own schedule of media appearances, despite efforts from the White House to muzzle him.
Trump aides have occasionally blocked him from prominent television interviews, chafing at how frequently he seems to book himself on shows. They have complained privately that Fauci appears on the airwaves far more often than Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator and others involved in the administration's response.
One senior administration official said the White House moved to book Eric Trump, the president's son, on the Sunday political talk shows this past weekend, rather than Fauci, to put forward a political, campaign-focused message. The official, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.
Trump has complained to aides that Fauci labeled a Rose Garden event on Sept. 26 - which has been suspected of being at the center of a coronavirus outbreak that has infected Trump, first lady Melania Trump and at least 33 other White House aides and associates - as a "super spreader event."
Fauci has regularly battled with Scott Atlas, the president's coronavirus adviser, who regularly eschews wearing a face mask and is regularly at Trump's side in the Oval Office.
Atlas has advocated for fully reopening schools and businesses without restrictions, questions well-established science on masks and social distancing and reducing testing - all positions that are in line with Trump's desire to move past the pandemic and assure people life is returning to normal. Fauci has regularly been at odds with Atlas.
Fauci has been internally critical of the president's campaign, telling other advisers they are regularly taking dangerous risks with big events, officials said.
The campaign did not tell Fauci in advance that they would be using him in the advertisement, two campaign officials said. But advisers bragged about the spot in advance, saying it could help turn around the president's poor public approval rating over his handling of the coronavirus.
Recent polls show Biden with a widening lead nationally and a continued edge in several key swing states.
"Not sure why going to battle with the administration's most popular member is the best campaign strategy for us," one administration official said of Trump's decision to go after Fauci Tuesday.
With his diminished White House influence, Fauci has instead sought to speak directly to the public through television appearances, where he has continued to advocate basic public health measures that the administration has flouted - making him unpopular with one regular viewer.
"The main place he sees Dr. Fauci is on TV," one senior administration official said of Trump.