“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.
President Trump: “85% of the people wearing the masks catch it, okay?” pic.twitter.com/193E6QRWrV
— The Hill (@thehill) October 15, 2020
“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.
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.
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.
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 of COVID-19 adult patients in 11 healthcare facilities found that about 85 percent of those surveyed reported either often or always wearing a face mask.