(CBS News) - In a call with Trump campaign staff Monday, President Trump tore into the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert and coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying people have become tired of “Fauci and all these idiots” warning about the risks of COVID-19.
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots, these people, these people that have gotten it wrong,” the president told his staff Monday during a call on the state-of-play of the race. “Fauci’s a nice guy. He’s been here for 500 years. He called every one of them wrong. And he’s like this wonderful guy, a wonderful sage, telling us how he said, ‘do not wear face masks’ — that’s a number of months ago.”
Mr. Trump said if the White House had listened to Fauci, the U.S. would have “500,000 deaths.”
The president went on to declare, “We saved 2.2 million people. If we didn’t do what we did, and close it and do just — now we’re opening it. But we’d never close it again. It would never close, it’ll never close again. Because we know the disease,” an apparent reference to his partial ban on travel to the U.S. from China early this year.
“But Fauci, if we listened to him, we’d have 700-, 800 thousand deaths right now,” the president said.
At the beginning of the outbreak, Fauci recommended against routinely wearing masks, but that was in part because he was concerned there would be a shortage of surgical masks for healthcare workers. A month later, he reversed course after scientists were finding that people without symptoms were a significant source of spread, and masks, even homemade ones, could help stop transmission.
“It became clear that cloth coverings — ... and not necessarily a surgical mask or an N95 —cloth coverings, work. So, now there’s no longer a shortage of masks,” Fauci said in an interview with CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook on “60 Minutes.” He added that “meta-analysis studies show that, contrary to what we thought, masks really do work in preventing infection.”
While Fauci has been consistently calling for the use of masks for months, the White House messaging on mask-wearing has been less consistent. Mr. Trump and White House officials do not always wear masks, even at crowded events like Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, which Fauci has called a “super-spreader” event. He told LaPook that he’s not surprised the president contracted coronavirus given his participation at crowded events where few people wore masks.
Mr. Trump has publicly criticized Fauci before, while calling him a “nice guy.” Last week, Mr. Trump called Fauci a “Democrat,” even though Fauci is not registered to either major political party and says he has never endorsed any candidate.
The president also noted that he’s holding big rallies, even as COVID-19 continues to ravage the country.
“People are tired of COVID. I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had, and we have COVID. People are saying, ‘Whatever, just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it,” the president said.
On Monday, the president also predicted he’s going to win and seemed to suggest he has greater confidence now than he did two or three weeks ago, which was when he contracted the coronavirus and was subsequently hospitalized.
“We’re going to win. I wouldn’t have said that three weeks ago,” the president told campaign staff. “Three weeks ago, two weeks ago, I don’t know, I wouldn’t have said it. It was tougher for me. But when we’re leading in Michigan in the early vote, that’s unheard of.”