Despite repeatedly contradicting health officials in his own administration with misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and possible treatment, Donald Trump has denied any bad blood between him and Dr Anthony Fauci and joked that he should run against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
At a White House briefing on Friday, the president said invoked his Democratic foe in Congress, saying: “I told Tony Fauci, I said, ‘Why don’t you move to New York, run against AOC? You will win easily.’ But he decided he’s not going to do that.”
Asked whether he would tell his allies to stop attacks and criticism against doctors in his administration, he said: “I can only say this: I have tremendous respect for these people.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta pressed the president on whether he would listen to his health officials after he has moved his timetable to “re-open” the US by Easter to later this spring, despite no clear evidence that the coronavirus pandemic will have subsided, potentially putting millions of Americans at risk of infection following Mr Trump’s call to get people back to work.
He didn’t say whether he would heed their advice but added: “I listen to them about everything … I have great respect for this group.”
A host of right-wing pundits have targeted Dr Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has offered a more realistic and science-based impression of the pandemic’s impact in the US, in their conspiracies accusing him of being a Democratic “plant” undermining the administration.
On Fox News, host Steve Hilton said that Dr Fauci will “still have a job at the end of this, whatever happens” while the “ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they can afford an indefinite shutdown” of the economy.
Asked by Science Mag about the president’s misinformation, Dr Fauci said he “can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down. OK, he said it. Let’s try and get it corrected for the next time.”
The president also has blocked Dr Fauci from answering questions about the efficacy of a controversial anti-malaria drug to treat Covid-19 patients during a recent briefing.
Earlier that day, Dr Fauci told CBS that “in terms of science, I don’t think we could definitively say [hydroxychloroquine] works.”
He said: “The data are really just at best suggestive … There have been cases that show there may be an effect and there are others to show there’s no effect.”
The president has continued to push for the drug without significant evidence that it can be safely scaled for use for the thousands of people who are ill.