Donald Trump has told supporters that he will fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top virus expert in his administration after the crowd at a rally in Miami chanted for him to do so.
The president and Dr. Fauci have publicly disagreed on a number of points since the beginning of the pandemic, although the epidemiologist has become a popular figure for his measured advice on tackling Covid-19.
On Sunday evening, Mr. Trump railed against media coverage of the coronavirus crisis, adding that "you won't hear much about it" after Tuesday's election.
His supporters, many of whom were without masks, began chanting "Fire Fauci" as soon as Mr. Trump said this.
"During the chants, Mr. Trump remained silent, after which he told the crowd:" Don't tell anyone but let me wait until after the election for a little while ... I appreciate the advice.
Relations between the president and the leading expert on the US coronavirus taskforce have steadily deteriorated over the last few months.
In an interview on Sunday with the Washington Post, Dr. Fauci sought an urgent change in the policy of the government to deal with Covid-19, saying that the US was "in for a whole lot of hurt," adding: "It's not a good situation."
Referring to the coming winters, Dr. Fauci said that "you could not be more poorly positioned," and warned that the US could witness more than 100,000 new cases of coronavirus a day.
The US has reported over 8.9 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 228,185 deaths, according to the World Health Organization, with the highest single-day spike ever of 99,356 cases on 1 November compared to 89,048 cases on Saturday.
The interview drew a sharp response from White House spokesman Judd Deere, who accused Dr. Fauci three days before the November 3 elections of playing politics.
"For Dr. Fauci, a senior member of the President's Coronavirus Task Force and someone who has praised President Trump 's actions throughout this pandemic, it is unacceptable and in breach of all norms to choose to play politics three days before an election," the statement said.
He said that Dr. Fauci, as a member of the task force, has a duty to express concerns or push for a strategy change, "but he has not done that, instead choosing to criticize the president in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the opponent of the president."
Dr. Fauci "knows that today's risks are dramatically lower than they were just a few months ago, with mortality rates falling by over 80%," Mr. Deere said.
Donald Trump signed an executive order last week, according to US media, to create an entirely new class of federal employees, Schedule F, which would include government scientists, economists, and others, and allow the president to fire them at will.