Washington — Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of President Trump, defended Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday amid efforts by top White House officials to discredit him, warning attempts to undercut Fauci would be unproductive.

During a press conference in Columbia, South Carolina, Graham told reporters he has “all the respect in the world for Dr. Fauci,” the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

“I think any effort to undermine him is not going to be productive, quite frankly,” the senator said.

Graham said the nation does not have “a Dr. Fauci problem” and instead needs “to be focusing on doing things that get us to where we need to go.”

“Getting in a contest with Dr. Fauci about whether he was right or wrong doesn’t move the ball forward,” the South Carolina senator said.

Graham’s defense of Fauci comes as tensions between him and senior White House officials have spilled into public view as Fauci has issued blunt warnings about the state of the coronavirus crisis, which is worsening in most states.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CBS News that Fauci “has been wrong about everything I have ever interacted with him on.”

“Now Fauci is saying that a falling mortality rate doesn’t matter, when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening,” Navarro said. “So when you ask me if I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is only with caution.”

In addition to Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci, Dan Scavino, White House deputy chief of staff for communications, shared a cartoon on social media Sunday that mocked Fauci and suggested his recommendations to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus are drowning the economy. The image depicts Fauci as “Dr. Faucet” turned to “extra cold” and spewing demands for schools to remain closed and lockdowns to stay in place.

“Sorry, Dr. Faucet!” Scavino wrote in a post accompanying the cartoon. “At least you know if I’m going to disagree with a colleague, such as yourself, it’s done publicly — and not cowardly, behind journalists with leaks. See you tomorrow!”

While President Trump has lauded the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and said the declining mortality rate demonstrates the success in responding to the crisis, Fauci warned last week during a Facebook Live with Alabama Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat, that “it’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower death rate.”

Fauci has also rejected the suggestion that the U.S. is doing better than other countries in its response to the coronavirus, instead telling FiveThirtyEight’s podcast that “when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great.”

Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday he has a “very good relationship with Fauci” but doesn’t agree with him at all times.

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