Trump added of Fauci: “Every time he goes on television there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him.”

The president also presented himself as unconcerned by the prospect of his comments leaking to the press. “If there’s a reporter on, you can have it just the way I said it. I couldn’t care less,” he said.

The campaign call came after Fauci made a series of frank remarks about the president and the federal government’s pandemic response in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday.

Among his more noteworthy statements, Fauci said Trump is reluctant to cover his face in public because he “equates wearing a mask with weakness.”

The president’s frequent refusal to model the personal mitigation measure is “less an anti-science [position] than it’s more a statement,” Fauci said.

“You know, a statement of strength,” Fauci added. “Like, ‘We’re strong. We don’t need a mask.’ That kind of thing. He sometimes equates wearing a mask with weakness.”

Asked whether it made sense to him to view mask-wearing through such a lens of strength or weakness, Fauci responded: “No, it doesn’t. Of course not.”

Still, Fauci said he thought that “deep down, [Trump] believes in science,” because “if he didn’t, he would not have entrusted his health to the very competent physicians at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”

Trump was treated at the Maryland military hospital for three days earlier this month after contracting Covid-19. But even after being discharged, he has continued to decline to wear masks at many public events.

In fact, upon his return to the White House after his stay at Walter Reed, the presumably still-contagious president ascended the steps to the Truman Balcony and removed his mask to pose and salute for the cameras before entering the executive mansion.

Trump has resumed his campaign schedule in the final weeks of the presidential race, headlining packed rallies in swing states attended by mostly maskless crowds and urging Americans to go about their normal lives with little regard for the pandemic.

Trump was pressed on his failure to more forcefully advocate mask-wearing at an NBC town hall event last Thursday, during which he only expressed approval of masks and did not encourage their use.

Presented with the results of a University of Washington study from July that predicted the nation’s daily death toll could be reduced by more than 66 percent with universal mask-wearing, Trump said there were “other people that disagree” and mentioned Scott Atlas — the White House’s controversial new health adviser.

“Scott Atkins, if you look at Scott, Dr. Scott,” Trump said, apparently misremembering Atlas’ name. “He’s from — great guy. Stanford. He will tell you that. He disagrees with you.”

Atlas is a physician with no expertise in infectious diseases or epidemiology, known for his rosier assessments of the pandemic’s threat and resistance to coronavirus restrictions. He has reportedly been urging the White House to embrace a strategy of herd immunity through mass infection to quash the public health crisis, but has denied advocating such an approach.

Trump also distorted data from a study published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assert that 85 percent of people who wear masks become infected — a false claim he made on several occasions last Thursday.

Trump noted that Fauci did not endorse mask-wearing in the initial stage of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. But neither did other administration officials at the time, and the CDC began recommending the use of cloth masks when outside the home by early April.

Fauci acknowledged in June that the administration was slow to promote mask-wearing because of concerns among the public health community regarding a shortage of personal protective equipment in the U.S.

Gabby Orr contributed to this report.



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