Administration

Trump says he has a 'very good relationship' with Fauci amid White House criticism

President Trump on Monday said he has a "very good relationship" with Dr. Anthony Fauci, downplaying the existence of a rift with the government's top infectious diseases expert even as multiple White House aides openly criticize the doctor.

"I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci. I've had for a long time, right from the beginning," Trump told reporters at a White House event meant to highlight positive actions by police. "I find him to be a very nice person. I don't always agree with him."

"I get along with him very well. I like him, personally," Trump added.

The president cited his decision to impose a travel ban on China in January, saying Fauci "will admit that it was a good decision."

Fauci has publicly credited the ban with preventing further seeding of the coronavirus in the United States, though public health experts questioned the move at the time it was implemented.

Trump's comments come as tensions between the White House and Fauci spill into public view.

Multiple administration officials have in recent days attacked Fauci by citing some of his shifting statements as experts learned more about the novel coronavirus.

Dan Scavino, deputy chief of staff for communications, shared a cartoon on his Facebook page late Sunday that depicted Fauci as a faucet flushing the U.S. economy down the drain with overzealous health guidance to slow the spread of the pandemic.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, whom the president tapped to manage the use of the Defense Production Act, said he personally proceeds with caution before heeding Fauci's advice.

Trump himself said last week that Fauci is a nice man but that he's "made a lot of mistakes."

The White House over the weekend anonymously circulated a list of "mistakes" Fauci has made since the pandemic began, including his comments in February about Americans not needing to change their daily lives or his guidance in March that there is no need for people to wear masks.

Those comments came before the extent of the outbreak in the U.S. was known and before scientists knew people could spread the virus without showing symptoms. Fauci, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other experts now urge people to use face coverings in public. 

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Monday that the idea that the White House is disseminating opposition research about Fauci "couldn't be further from the truth. Dr. Fauci and the president have always had a very good working relationship."

There have been tensions between Trump and Fauci throughout the pandemic. The president has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus, broken with the advice of his own public health experts and painted rosy but at times misleading pictures of the U.S. response. Fauci, who has served four decades in his current post, has offered blunt talk on the dangers of the pandemic that has directly contradicted the president from time to time.

But the latest criticisms mark a shift as the White House has begun publicly undermining one of the leading public health voices in the administration at a time when multiple states are struggling to get new outbreaks under control.

The U.S. has the highest number of reported coronavirus cases of any country in the world at more than 3.3 million. More than 135,000 Americans have died of the virus.

Florida, Arizona and California have all set records in recent days of the number of new daily cases reported. Some states have re-imposed certain restrictions, such as shuttering bars, in an effort to contain the outbreaks.

Trump on Monday repeated his inaccurate claim that the recent rise in coronavirus cases in the U.S. is attributable to expanded testing capabilities. Multiple states with increasing infection numbers have shown rising positivity rates, meaning more people who are tested are testing positive for the virus.

Updated at 3:30 p.m.

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