President Trump suggested at a campaign rally late Sunday that he may attempt to fire Anthony Fauci after Election Day, escalating his criticism of the nation’s top infectious diseases expert.

Trump’s remarks came after his supporters in Opa-Locka, Fla., broke out into loud chants of “fire Fauci.”

“Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Trump responded to the crowd.

“I appreciate the advice. I appreciate the advice. No, he’s been wrong though a lot. He’s a nice man though. He’s been wrong on a lot,” Trump continued.

The president went on to attack Fauci’s credibility, criticizing him for altering his early position on the efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as did other top health experts. Trump also claimed that Fauci opposed his decision to restrict travel from China, despite the top health official publicly backing it.

It’s not clear how serious Trump is about trying to remove Fauci, one of the most trusted health experts on the pandemic, an action that would undoubtedly be met with swift and sweeping public blowback. Trump also cannot directly fire Fauci, a career civil servant, but would need to order his political appointees to do so. Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1985, could also appeal his removal because of the protections given to career federal government employees.

Tensions between Trump and Fauci, who was a regular fixture at White House coronavirus briefings earlier this year, have been building for months due to the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and disregard for public health guidelines.

Fauci has publicly criticized Trump’s large campaign rallies, which the president has continued to hold despite the pandemic and rising cases, and offered blunt assessments of the threat posed by COVID-19 that contrast the president’s own efforts to minimize the danger of the virus. Trump, who himself was diagnosed with COVID-19 in October, has repeatedly claimed that the United States is “rounding the turn” on the virus even as cases have recently surged across the country.

Fauci’s willingness to contradict Trump publicly has made him a target of the president’s allies and supporters.

Trump’s remarks Sunday, made after midnight during his fifth and final campaign rally that day, came after Fauci in an interview with The Washington Post warned about the climbing infections and offered frank criticism of the White House response.

“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Fauci told the Post. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”

Trump’s remarks also came just two days before Election Day, with the president trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden in national and swing state polling. Biden has made criticism of Trump’s coronavirus response a focal point of his campaign. A significant majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 Americans to date.

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Joe Biden

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