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In the open: White House advisers tussle over virus response

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this April 22, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump watches as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – Infighting over the White House's handling of the coronovirus pandemic is spilling further into public view, with trade adviser Peter Navarro panning Dr. Anthony Fauci as President Donald Trump stands watch.

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, called the criticism “nonsense” and “a bit bizarre.”

The long-simmering tiff escalated when Navarro wrote an op-ed in USA Today skewering Fauci, writing that the doctor “has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on. ... So when you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution.”

In an interview with The Atlantic, Fauci responded: “I can’t explain Peter Navarro. He’s in a world by himself. So I don’t even want to go there.”

And Trump, who has complained about Fauci privately for months — and publicly in recent days — stepped in to referee.

Navarro “made a state statement representing himself. He shouldn’t be doing that,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for Atlanta. The president insisted he had a “very good relationship with Dr. Fauci” and said his staffers were working together.

The back-and-forth is the latest episode of infighting in a White House that has been riven by rivalries since its earliest days. It comes as the White House's handling of the pandemic has come under even deeper scrutiny at a time when cases are surging and the president is pressing to restart economic activity, in part to bolster his reelection chances.

Trump has been known to encourage disputes between aides, believing differing viewpoints serve him better. Others in the White House have waged an open campaign to discredit Fauci, who has been increasingly vocal in his disagreements with the president's enthusiasm for reopening high-risk venues like schools and sporting arenas.