Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday he considered himself “more a realist than an alarmist” after President Donald Trump on Sunday labeled him “a little bit of an alarmist” even as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
“Well, I mean people have their opinion about my reaction to things. I consider myself more a realist than an alarmist,” Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” when asked about Trump’s characterization.
“But, you know, people do have their opinions other than that. I’ve always thought of myself as a realist when it comes to this.”
Fauci’s comments follow a tense stretch with the President that saw the White House make a concerted effort to discredit him as he became increasingly vocal about his concerns over reopening the country amid a national surge in coronavirus cases.
Earlier this month, a White House official told CNN that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” The official went on to provide a lengthy list of examples, citing Fauci’s comments early in the pandemic and linking to past interviews.
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Those bullet points, which resembled opposition research on a political opponent, included Fauci downplaying the virus early on and a quote from March when Fauci said, “People should not be walking around with masks,” among other comments. Not included were previous statements from the surgeon general urging people not to buy masks or an acknowledgment of the President’s own false claims and misstatements about the virus.
Health officials, including as Fauci and US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, had advised the general public in February and March not to wear face masks. But Fauci, Adams, the CDC and the World Health Organization have all done an about-face on mask guidance, as scientists have learned more in recent months about how easily this new coronavirus can spread in public.
Trump later said that he has “a very good” relationship with Fauci.
Despite Trump’s characterization of their relationship, he did not invite Fauci to attend the White House news conference on the pandemic that was scheduled for Tuesday evening.
Fauci told Tapper that he was not asked to attend, even though, according to a source familiar with the matter, he had expected to be invited.
“I was not invited,” he said a little less than an hour before Trump’s briefing was set to begin. “Up to this point, I’m assuming I’m not going to be there.” Fauci added that he last spoke to Trump about the pandemic late last week and did not brief him before Tuesday’s public briefing.
After Trump largely adopted a strategy of ignoring the pandemic in the last few weeks – as his poll numbers have continued to drop – the President announced Monday that he would resume resume regular public briefings despite discontinuing them in April and declaring them a waste of time.
Trump is expected to hold the briefings a few times a week. But a White House official said the President’s upcoming news conferences should not be viewed as a return to the task force briefings that were halted earlier this year.
The President may or may not have health experts with him when he holds the briefings and he will definitely cover other topics, the official said. As a result, White House aides decided to call it a news conference rather than a coronavirus task force briefing in the schedule.
And while Trump has told aides he plans to take questions, the official said, it is unclear how many he will field, leaving open the possibility that he will use these sessions to air his grievances and attack his political opponents as he has at recently called “press conferences.”
Tuesday’s White House briefings also coincides with a push from the Trump administration to reopen schools this fall.
Fauci said he has not specifically talked to Trump or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about reopening schools, but that it has come up at coronavirus task force meetings.
“In general, when I think about that, I want to take a 40,000-foot look and say, as a fundamental principle, I do agree that we should try as best as we possibly can to get the children back to school,” Fauci said. “Because of the well-documented, you know, secondary downstream ripple effects that are negative on parents and on the children when you keep them out of school,”
This story has been updated with additional information Tuesday.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Holly Yan contributed to this report.