Nov 1, 2020 - Health

WH accuses Fauci of playing politics over bleak coronavirus assessment

Anthony Fauci (R), NAID director, and President Trump at the coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 22, 2020 in Washington, DC.

President Trump and NIAID director Anthony Fauci during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in April. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci praised the Biden campaign's coronavirus stance, criticized White House adviser Scott Atlas and offered a bleak assessment of the U.S. pandemic response in an interview with the Washington Post, published Saturday.

Why it matters: Fauci's comments are perhaps his most frank yet and come as COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S. The White House called Fauci's remarks three days out from the election "unacceptable." Atlas publicly responded to his fellow coronavirus task force member in a tweet late Saturday.

Driving the news: In the wide-ranging interview conducted Friday, Fauci said the U.S. was "in for a whole lot of hurt" going into the fall and winter, with people congregating indoors. "You could not possibly be positioned more poorly," he noted.

  • On presidential candidate Joe Biden's approach to the pandemic, Fauci said the Democrat's campaign "is taking it seriously from a public health perspective."
  • President Trump is "looking at it from a different perspective," on "the economy and reopening the country," Fauci said.
  • On Atlas, a radiologist, Fauci said: "I have real problems with that guy. He's a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense."

Context: Twitter took down a tweet by Atlas for making false claims about face masks in October. He also made false comments on herd immunity.

What they're saying: White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an emailed statement, "It's unacceptable and breaking with all norms for Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President's Coronavirus Taskforce and someone who has praised President Trump's actions throughout this pandemic, to choose three days before an election to play politics."

"As a member of the Task Force, Dr. Fauci has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy, but he's not done that, instead choosing to criticize the President in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the President's opponent."

The big picture: The U.S. has for months reported the highest COVID-19 death toll and infection numbers in the world.

  • The country hit some grim COVID-19 milestones in the past week, surpassing 9 million cases on Friday and setting a single-day record of 88,452 new infections a day earlier.
  • More than 230,500 people have died from the virus and over 9.1 million tested positive as of Sunday morning, per Johns Hopkins.
  • A representative for Fauci did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
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