Donald Trump has denied plans to fire Dr Anthony Fauci while once again blaming extra testing for the United States' high numbers of coronavirus cases.
US President Donald Trump says he has a "very good" working relationship with America's top infectious disease specialist, despite repeatedly undercutting the respected scientist amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For several weeks Mr Trump has hurled criticism at Anthony Fauci, a senior member of the president's coronavirus taskforce who has warned, sometimes in blunt language, that US officials and citizens have not done enough to fight the pandemic.
"I have a very good relationship with Dr Fauci," Mr Trump told reporters, adding: "I find him to be a very nice person. I don't always agree with him."
Less than four months before the presidential election, Mr Trump has repeatedly minimised the dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across the US, even as the country surpasses 3.3 million confirmed infections and 135,000 deaths, the world's highest toll.
He has continued to downplay the ever-rising number of daily cases, blaming them instead on increased testing.
The US is currently testing some 600,000 people a day, according to the COVID Tracking Project, but even this is deemed insufficient by health experts because of the very high rate of positive cases being found.
"Dr Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes," he said last week.
At the weekend, a White House official sought to further discredit Dr Fauci by anonymously circulating talking points to The Washington Post warning that White House officials were "concerned about the number of times Dr Fauci has been wrong on things."
The same official provided a list of Dr Fauci's statements that he believed were incorrect.
His changing advice on wearing masks and stance on COVID-19's severity was among the points from the White House.
Dr Fauci has defended his earlier comments on masks, citing new research and saying it was due to concerns over scarcity at the time for healthcare providers.
He has since strongly recommended wearing face coverings in public.
Despite the efforts to malign Dr Fauci, the White House appeared eager to downplay tensions, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany saying on Monday that Mr Trump "certainly" still values the expert's opinion.
"Dr Fauci is one of many on the task force who provides advice," she said.
Faced with outbreak surges in the US south and west, Dr Fauci sounded the alarm last week, denouncing the hasty end to lockdowns in several states and the general carelessness of many Americans.
"As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don't think you can say we're doing great," he said last Thursday. "We're just not."
But the following day, Dr Fauci backtracked on his calls for a total shutdown and instead called for some states to "pause reopening", adding "I don't think we need to go back to an extreme of shutting down."
Dr Fauci joined the White House coronavirus taskforce in January and was initially praised by the President, who said at a March press briefing he was "doing a tremendous job working long, long hours."
But their relationship soon soured when the public health expert told CNN that earlier mitigation efforts could have saved more American lives.
Later that day, Mr Trump retweeted a post that included the hashtag 'Fire Fauci' which stoked fears he could be axed from the White House team.
Despite the public accusations by the White House, Dr Fauci is still widely considered one of the most trusted faces in Mr Trump's fight against the pandemic.
As a longtime expert in similar health crises including helping to develop a treatment for HIV/AIDS, he has won plaudits for his no-nonsense and apolitical interviews with the media.
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