Fauci accused Rand Paul of politicizing the pandemic for profit. And he had receipts.
The good doctor is done pulling punches with a GOP devoted to Covid misinformation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci knew that his longtime nemesis, Sen. Rand Paul, would be coming for him during Tuesday’s Senate health committee hearing. And he was much better prepared for this round of the information war than Paul proved to be.
First, some backstory: Paul has done more than perhaps any other member of Congress to demonize Fauci in particular, and by extension government public health expertise generally. He’s gone as far as to baselessly accuse Fauci of being responsible for millions of Covid deaths all across the world, and said last August, “it’s time for us to resist. They can’t arrest all of us … no one should follow the CDC’s anti-science mask mandates.”
All the while, Paul has relentlessly spread misinformation about Covid, claiming masks don’t work and that Fauci played a role in Covid’s origins. Just last week, Paul denigrated the importance of getting vaccinated, falsely claiming — to no pushback — on Fox News that “the majority of the people in the hospital right now are vaccinated.”
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That sort of rhetoric leads astray those who are deluded enough to believe Paul has credibility, but it can also radicalize crazies. Last month an armed California man was arrested in Iowa while he was allegedly on his way to Washington, DC, with a “hit list” including Fauci, President Biden, and other prominent liberals. I’m not implying any direct connection to Paul here — this man appears to have been a QAnon adherent — but there are people who sincerely believe that Fauci is responsible for millions of deaths and involved in unleashing Covid on the world, and as the incident in Iowa demonstrates, it’s entirely possible for people devoted to conspiracy theories to be radicalized into acting on them. Paul is one of the most significant public voices spreading this kind of dangerous crackpotism.
Paul has routinely gone after Fauci during hearings dating back to before the 2020 election, and on Tuesday, Fauci was ready. When Paul quickly steered his questioning time into personal attacks, Fauci delivered a monologue explaining not only why Paul’s unceasing efforts to scapegoat him are dangerous, but also touched upon the self-interested motives Paul has for doing it.
Here’s the transcript of Fauci’s remarks.
The last time we had a committee, or the time before it, he was accusing me of being responsible for the death of 4 to 5 million people, which is really irresponsible. And I say, why is he doing that? There are two reasons why that's really bad. The first is it distracts from what we're all trying to do here today, is get our arms around the epidemic and the pandemic that we're dealing with, not something imaginary.
Number two, what happens when he gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that all of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there and I have threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me.
Now, I guess you could say, well, that's the way it goes, I can take the hit. Well, it makes a difference. Because as some of you may know, just about three or four weeks ago — on December 21 — a person was arrested who was on their way from Sacramento to Washington, DC, at a speed stop in Iowa. And the police asked him where he was going, and he was going to Washington, DC, to kill Dr. Fauci. And they found in his car an AR-15 and multiple magazines of ammunition, because he thinks that maybe I'm killing people.
At this point Fauci grabbed a sheet of paper adorned with a screenshot of Paul’s campaign website, which he brandished for people to see. He continued:
So I asked myself, why would a senator want to do this? So go to Rand Paul’s website, and you see "Fire Dr. Fauci" with a little box that says, “contribute here.” You can do $5, $10, $20, $100. So you are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain. So the only thing --
Paul then jumped in and started talking over Fauci. Watch for yourself:
Indeed, Paul’s campaign website lists “#FIREFAUCI” as one of his main issues. In just three sentences, the accompanying blurb makes a number of false and bizarre claims about Biden’s chief medical adviser, such as that he’s “abandoned science,” has been “ignoring good advice, and lying about everything from masks to the contagiousness of the virus.”
Then, as if to prove Fauci’s point, immediately after the hearing Paul tried to fundraise on Fauci.
And he followed that up by going on Fox News and calling for Fauci’s prosecution.
To be clear, Fauci’s guidance hasn’t always been perfect. In the early days of the pandemic, for instance, he advised people not to wear masks. But as evidence that Covid spreads through the air mounted, Fauci adjusted his guidance. In contrast to his former colleague, Deborah Birx, Fauci never trashed his credibility by toadying to Trump, and for nearly two years he’s been far and away the most prominent, credible public health voice in the federal government.
Notably, Mitt Romney used part of his questioning time to defend Fauci and the other public health officials who testified, alluding to Paul’s attacks and saying, “you're scientists, not politicians. Nevertheless, you're being made subject to the political whims of various political individuals and that comes at a high cost."
And while Fauci responded in good faith and patiently to Republicans on the committee who asked him legitimate questions, he didn’t have patience for Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) when Marshall starting pushing Paul-style conspiracy theories.
"It really pains me to have to point out to the American public how incorrect you are,” Fauci said. “Once again, you are completely and unequivocally incorrect."
Later, Fauci unloaded on Marshall again when he used his second round of questioning to insinuate that Fauci is hiding something by not releasing his financial disclosure — a document that’s already public information.
I ended up watching and live-tweeting the entire health committee hearing, and the shabby performances by some of the Republican senators really stood out. In addition to Paul and Marshall, you had Susan Collins pursuing a confused line of questioning that suggested vaccination was overrated and Tommy Tuberville asking about the quack “cure” ivermectin. But given where the party is today, Republicans trying to turn a pandemic that’s killed nearly 850,000 into Benghazi 2.0 isn’t really as surprising as it should be.
The outright ugliness of the remarks by both Paul and Marshall really stood out, though. Instead of making an earnest effort to inform their constituents about how best to protect themselves and those around them, they’re pulling out all the stops to undermine the notion that public health experts should be listened to at all. And, tragically, people who listen to their misinformation earnestly are already paying a price.
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Biden’s big speech in Atlanta
In addition to the Senate hearing, I also spent part of my Tuesday watching President Biden’s big speech in Atlanta, where he urged Congress to pass voting rights legislations by any means necessary — including changing the filibuster rules.
I threaded a number of video highlights to Twitter, which you can check out here:
It was a good speech, but let’s face it: What really matters at this point is finding either 50 votes in the Senate to change the filibuster rules or 60 votes to pass voting rights legislation. Considering how exceedingly unlikely it is that 10 Republicans will get behind voting rights, the more likely path involves Joe Manchin agreeing to filibuster changes. And, unfortunately for our democracy, Manchin thus far hasn’t proven very persuadable.