President Donald Trump said Monday 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 days Trump has hurled criticism at Anthony Fauci, a senior member of his 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," 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, Trump has repeatedly minimized the dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across the United States, even as the country surpassed 3.3 million confirmed infections and 135,000 deaths, the world's highest toll.
"Dr Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes," Trump said last week.
At the weekend, a White House official sought to further discredit 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 Fauci's statements that he believed were incorrect.
Despite the efforts to malign Fauci, the White House appeared eager to downplay tensions, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany saying Monday that Trump "certainly" still values the expert's opinion.
"Dr Fauci is one of many on the task force who provides advice," she said.
Trump is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in the polls ahead of a November election and surveys show most Americans are unhappy with how he has handled the public health crisis.
The Biden campaign slammed Trump for the Fauci comments.
"The president's disgusting attempt to pass the buck by blaming the top infectious disease expert in the country -- whose advice he repeatedly ignored and Joe Biden consistently implored him to take -- is yet another horrible and revealing failure of leadership as the tragic death toll continues to needlessly grow," campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
Faced with outbreak surges in the US south and west, 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."