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Trump knocks Fauci, claims he's 'a Democrat'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE on Thursday spoke dismissively about Anthony FauciAnthony FauciScott Atlas: Fauci 'just one person on the task force' Budowsky: Trump's COVID-19 death toll dominates election Wisconsin COVID-19 cases climb ahead of Election Day MORE during a campaign rally, suggesting he had offered inconsistent advice about the novel coronavirus and claiming the top U.S. infectious diseases expert is a Democrat.

“My friend, and he’s a nice guy, Tony. Tony Fauci. He’s a nice guy. He said this is not a threat. This is not a problem. Don’t worry about it,” Trump told the crowd of supporters at an outdoor rally in Greenville, N.C.

“And he said do not wear a mask. Do not wear a mask under any circumstances. Don’t wear a mask. Don’t. Don’t don’t, right? So we don’t wear a mask, then they say, oh, wear a mask. Did you see any conflicts?” Trump continued.

“But he’s a nice guy so I keep him around, right? We’ll keep him around. He’s a Democrat. Everybody knows that. He’s [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo’s friend. Cuomo did the worst job of any governor in the United States,” Trump said, before eviscerating Cuomo’s response to the coronavirus.

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Fauci has not, however, publicly identified himself as a Democrat and has taken pains to stay out of politics in his role as a top health official.

In his comments, Trump exaggerated remarks made by Fauci in a January Newsmax interview during which he said Americans should take the coronavirus “seriously” but that it was not a “major threat” to be worried about at that moment.

Fauci and other health experts also changed their stance on mask usage in the spring after evidence indicated that widespread mask use could help prevent the asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus.

Thursday’s rally appeared to be the first instance of Trump mocking Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, during one of his campaign rallies. It comes amid a public dispute between Fauci and the Trump campaign over the president's use of comments Fauci made during a news interview in a campaign advertisement without his consent.

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Fauci has said his remarks were taken out of context and called on the campaign to take down the ad. However, the Trump campaign has shown no sign of doing so and defended its use of Fauci’s remarks.

Cuomo's office on Thursday issued a response to the president's criticism, characterizing the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic as "incompetent and bumbling."

"Give me a break. More than 216,000 Americans died because of the federal government's incompetent and bumbling pandemic response and Trump knew the whole time how deadly it was and never raised the alarm," said Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo. "Instead he told the American people to drink bleach and then went golfing — a lot.

"The Governor has worked hard every day to protect New Yorkers and cut everyone's taxes while Trump raised them with his SALT cap...not that he'd know, he doesn't pay them anyway," he added.

Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, has offered blunt projections about the threat posed by the coronavirus that often contradict Trump’s own more-rosy pronouncements.

His willingness to contradict Trump has earned him criticism from Trump’s allies, introducing tension into his relationship with the president amid the pandemic.

Fauci has also not been shy to criticize Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail, where the president has consistently eschewed public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.

Before Trump, who himself contracted COVID-19, resumed his campaign rallies this week, Fauci warned that such large gatherings were “asking for trouble” during an interview with CNN. 

During his appearance in North Carolina on Thursday, Trump insisted the virus would “peter out” even as cases rise across the United States.

The president also significantly misrepresented a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, claiming that it showed “85 percent of the people wearing the mask” catch the virus.

In actuality, the study found that adults with confirmed COVID-19 cases were about twice as likely than those who tested negative to have reported dining at a restaurant before falling ill. Trump appeared to be referencing a point from the study that said that about 85 percent of COVID-19 patients surveyed reported either often or always wearing a face mask in the two weeks before they fell ill. Approximately the same percentage, 89 percent, of those who didn't have the coronavirus also reported wearing masks frequently. 

The CDC on Wednesday tweeted about misconceptions related to the September study, saying that "the interpretation that more mask-wearers are getting infected compared to non-mask wearers is incorrect." 

Updated: 7:23 p.m.