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What administration criticism of Fauci says about Trump’s campaign

The coronavirus rages on -- and so does the rhetorical battle over it. Some 137,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and more than 3.5 million are infected. While Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, says the U.S. needs to “call a timeout” to get the virus under control, the Trump administration disagrees. Yamiche Alcindor reports and joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The coronavirus crisis rages on, and so does the war of words over a top pandemic scientist.

    The verbal volleys kept coming today, as the United States neared 3.5 million infections, and topped 137,000 deaths.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, from the nation's top infectious disease expert, a fresh assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    What we need to do is say, we're not going in the right direction now. So, we got to call a time-out, do a pause, and say, what do we need to do?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But amid the worsening outbreak, Dr. Anthony Fauci also faces a public rift with the White House.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    It is a bit bizarre.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, he spoke out about the White House attacking him over his handling of the pandemic.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that. But I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it's only reflecting negatively on them. I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Those comments come after Navarro, President Trump's top trade adviser, lashed out at Fauci in a new USA Today op-ed.

    He wrote that Fauci — quote — "has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on." He also said he takes Dr. Fauci's advice with — quote — "skepticism and caution."

    Navarro's criticism echoes what the president himself has said about Dr. Fauci.

    Here he is last week in an interview with FOX News' Sean Hannity.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But, today, White House aides tried to distance the president from Navarro's comments.

    In a tweet, White House spokesperson Alyssa Farah said the op-ed "didn't go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone."

    The president also responded.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, that's Peter Navarro. But I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci.

    There's never been a time when two candidates were so different.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    All this as President Trump is behind in many polls and faces fierce criticism over his own response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    And, yesterday, what was billed as an official White House news conference quickly morphed into a campaign-style event. The president spent 63 minutes mostly criticizing his November opponent Joe Biden. He mentioned Biden by name some 30 times.

    He hit the former vice president on a range of issues, from China.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Joe Biden and President Obama freely allowed China to pillage our factories, plunder our communities.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    To jobs.

  • President Donald Trump:

    America lost nearly 10,000 factories while Joe Biden was vice president. Think of that, 10,000 factories.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    To the Paris climate agreement.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Vice President Biden was a leading advocate of the Paris climate accord, which was unbelievably expensive to our country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Biden's campaign said it was all a distraction from what it called President Trump's botched response to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Back in the Rose Garden, the president also falsely claimed again that COVID-19 infections are going up only because of increased testing.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Think of this: If we didn't do testing, instead of testing over 40 million people, if we did half the testing, we'd have half the cases.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It's true that the U.S. has conducted the most coronavirus tests. It's also recorded more COVID cases and fatalities than any other country.

    The rate of positive tests is also rising sharply in a number of states. Health experts continue to warn about deteriorating health conditions in the U.S., as cases surge across the country.

    States like California, Florida, and Texas are reporting almost daily records of new cases.

    Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas says that the lack of federal response is compounding the crisis.

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas:

    I think what's been missing is strong leadership from the top, giving the people of Texas good advice.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile today, another Trump administration decision was scrutinized. The White House ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the president has repeatedly criticized. Now it wants hospitals to send COVID-19 patient records to a database with the Department of Health and Human Services.

    The White House says it will streamline data collection. But researchers say it could hinder their ability to access critical information.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And Yamiche joins me now.

    Yamiche, good to see you.

    Let me ask you now about something we heard from the White House today. They seem to be distancing the president from that op-ed written by Peter Navarro, which was very critical of Dr. Anthony Fauci.

    So, tell us, what more do we know about how the op-ed came to be and also about that White House relationship with Dr. Fauci?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, what we have seen is an escalating war between the White House and Dr. Fauci.

    Dr. Fauci has served some five presidents before President Trump. And he's someone who is very respected. He was someone who also said before this op-ed was written by Peter Navarro that the American public should really trust scientists, including himself.

    So, Peter Navarro wrote this op-ed. There was some reporting by The L.A. Times that President Trump personally approved the op-ed. But the White House chief of staff came out and quickly said that's not true, that the president thinks that Peter Navarro should not have written this op-ed.

    But that still is not — is still in line with the idea that White House officials have continued to criticize Dr. Fauci, including the president himself.

    What we now know now is that the White House is trying its best to spin this and say that the White House has not been trying to take on Dr. Fauci. And, today, Vice President Pence tweeted out a photo of him meeting with Dr. Fauci. White House sources tell me that Dr. Fauci has been talking to the vice president regularly.

    But, still, Dr. Fauci has not spoken directly to the president, it seems, in some months.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yamiche, that Rose Garden event you just reported on is getting a lot of attention for a number of reasons. It's been described in a lot of ways, highly unusual among them.

    But what about you? As you watched that, what are your biggest takeaways from that event?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, having been at that event, it was really something to behold. It was remarkable to see the president transform the Rose Garden, which has been used for official announcements and policy announcements for decades, into a really campaign-style venue.

    The president lashed out at Joe Biden for 63 minutes. He only took questions for about six minutes. The thesis of his entire speech was that there are big differences between him and Joe Biden.

    I will say that it was really remarkable to see the president kind of air these grievances in that way. The president has not been on the campaign trail very much. And, as a result, we have seen the president use other venues increasingly to talk about the campaign and make sure that people think that he is the one that's best — that's best suited to lead the country going forward.

    And the other thing that we saw, of course, as a result of this is people really questioning the ethical decisions in this White House. So we saw the president also, along with Ivanka Trump, his daughter, and a White House adviser talk about Goya and post pictures of Goya products, saying that people should be using those products.

    So there are a lot of questions about the ethical decisions being made. I have been told by some sources that Ivanka Trump is going to possibly be the focus of a complaint going forward because they think that she violated the Hatch Act.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yamiche, there was another comment from the president in an interview yesterday that's getting a lot of attention.

    He was asked about black people being killed by police. And he said, more white people are killed by police, which, while true, belies the fact that black people are disproportionately killed by police.

    What has been the reaction to those comments?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president has been someone who has been digging in on culture wars.

    He's someone who has also not wanted to talk about the words systemic racism, or say that African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by police killings. African-Americans really make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. They're 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police.

    So, today, we saw a lot of people criticizing the president for those comments, including the attorney for the family of George Floyd. As they were announcing a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and the police there, they said that the president really needed to think about the context in which — that George Ford was killed.

    The other thing to note is that the president, though, is going to continue to do this. So, the reaction from the Trump campaign is that this is the president being the president, and that he is a president for all Americans, and shouldn't focus only on police killings of African-Americans, which activists and the family of George Floyd said is just wrong.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A lot to cover at the White House and with this president.

    That's our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    Thanks, Yamiche.

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