President Trump attacked Joe Biden and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, during a campaign rally in Prescott, Ariz., on Monday, saying both men have been wrong about implementing strict measures to battle the coronavirus pandemic that has so far killed more than 220,000 Americans.
“This is all a choice between getting a safe vaccine or really a lockdown,” Trump said. “You know Biden wants to lock it down. He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci.”
Trump, who was tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 1 after months of downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic and spent three days in the hospital thanks to the virus, also continued to minimize the seriousness of the disease.
“If you have it, you have it, you get better,” Trump said.
The president has frequently minimized the coronavirus at his campaign rallies, where he entertains large, partially masked crowds sometimes assembled in defiance of local social distancing regulations designed to minimize spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. At his event in Prescott, he ratcheted up the rhetoric another notch, saying people are “getting tired of the pandemic” and implying media coverage of risks of exposure are merely an attempt to depress turnout in next month’s election.
“You turn on CNN, it’s all they cover; COVID, COVID, pandemic, COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID,” Trump said. “They’re trying to talk everybody out of voting. People aren’t buying it CNN, you dumb bastards!”
The rally came hours after Trump held a call with his campaign staff that was aimed at boosting morale as polls show him trailing Biden. During that conversation, Trump declared, “People are tired of listening to Fauci and these idiots.” Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and has served six presidents, has publicly advocated for social distancing measures and mask wearing. Though those guidelines have been recommended by most health experts, Trump has pushed to fully reopen the country and argued quarantines and other steps to limit contagion are too disruptive to the economy and public life.
Disembarking Air Force One in Arizona, Trump was asked about his criticism of Fauci on the campaign call.
“Dr. Fauci is a very nice man, but we let him do what he wants to do. He gets a lot of television. He loves being on television, and we let him do it,” Trump said, adding, “Sometimes he says things that are a little bit off, and they get built up, unfortunately.”
As one of the leading experts on the coronavirus task force, Fauci was a nearly ubiquitous presence in the media during the early days of the pandemic. As a result, Fauci earned high approval ratings in polls for his handling of the pandemic, which caused Trump to bristle. More recently, public briefings have dwindled and the White House has been accused of blocking Fauci from giving television interviews. White House officials have denied this.
In his comments ahead of the rally, Trump also accused Fauci of making “bad calls.”
“I like him, but he’s called a lot of bad calls. He said don’t wear a mask and he said don’t ban China. They were bad calls. He admits that,” Trump said.
COVID-19 was first identified in China in December of last year, and Trump has often falsely suggested that some U.S. officials — including Fauci — opposed his decision to impose travel restrictions on China in February. However, Fauci publicly supported the idea and Trump reportedly had to be convinced by the doctor and others to limit travel from China. It is true that, in March, Fauci and other medical experts did not recommend that Americans wear masks to limit spread of the illness, but consensus soon shifted towards advocating for face coverings.
Ahead of his rally in Prescott, Trump was asked why he hasn’t fired Fauci, and he pointed to the doctor’s long record of public service.
“I don’t want to hurt him. He’s been there for about 350 years,” Trump said of Fauci.
Fauci did not respond to a request for comment about Trump’s remarks.
As the president disparaged the doctor, a reporter pointed out that “Fauci and some scientists changed their recommendations” on masks as they learned more about the virus. Trump dismissed that point.
“You don’t understand,” he said to the reporter. “I understand well. You don’t understand, and you never have understood.”
On stage at the event, Trump reiterated his criticism of Fauci’s prior position on masks, attempted to link the doctor to Biden and went on to critique Fauci as “a promoter.” He also mocked the doctor for having a “bad arm” when he threw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game in July.
The president has repeatedly criticized Biden’s calls for stricter social distancing measures. He has also mocked Biden for drawing smaller crowds at rallies as a result of stricter COVID-19 safety protocols at his campaign events.
But Trump’s lax attitude towards coronavirus restrictions on the campaign trail and at the White House has had consequences. According to an ABC News report published earlier this month, a Federal Emergency Management Agency memo revealed that “34 White House staffers and other contacts” tested positive for COVID-19 during the recent outbreak. Trump, first lady Melania Trump and the couple’s son, Barron, all tested positive. The White House has not responded to requests for comment on the total number of staffers who became ill.
At his rally, the president described his experience with COVID-19 and claimed members of the media were pleased when he became sick.
“Oh were they happy when they heard I had it,” Trump said, adding, “And then, I came out and I did a rally and … they said he looks better now than before he had it.”
Trump credited his speedy recovery on an experimental antibody treatment made by the company Regeneron that he received while hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He called it a “cure” and reiterated his vow to make the same treatment available free of charge to COVID-19 patients nationwide. Clinical trials of Regeneron have found it has improved symptoms in some patients, but it is not a cure for the virus and is still not available to the general public.
“I took it and it was incredible,” Trump said. “I felt like Superman the next morning.”
Trump’s rally in Arizona was one of two planned for Monday. Polls currently show Biden ahead by an average of about 3 points in the state, which Trump won in 2016. Biden overtook Trump there starting in March and data has indicated a majority of voters in the state believe the Democrat would do a better job handling the virus.
On stage, Trump boasted that, if he remains in office, the pandemic will soon be over.
“Under my leadership prosperity will surge, patriotism will soar, optimism will boom,” said Trump. “The pandemic will soon end. It’s rounding the corner. They hate it when I say it.”
Alexander Nazaryan contributed reporting to this article.
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