Fauci agrees to testify in Congress on covid origins, pandemic policies

Anthony S. Fauci, who was then director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before the Senate health committee Sept. 14, 2022, about mpox. (Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post)
Anthony S. Fauci, who was then director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before the Senate health committee Sept. 14, 2022, about mpox. (Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post)

Anthony S. Fauci has agreed to testify in front of the House panel investigating the nation’s coronavirus response, the first time the prominent infectious-disease expert will publicly face Congress since leaving government nearly 1½ years ago.

Fauci, who helped steer the Trump and Biden administrations’ efforts to fight the virus, is scheduled to testify June 3 in front of the House Oversight select subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic, with lawmakers expected to press him on the still-unknown origins of the pandemic, the government’s vaccine mandates and other issues that remain politically divisive, more than four years after the outbreak began.
The GOP-led panel includes some of Fauci’s most persistent critics in Congress, such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.), who have repeatedly alleged that the pandemic began with an accident at a lab in China funded by Fauci’s agency and covered up by U.S. officials.
“Retirement from public service does not excuse Dr. Fauci from accountability to the American people,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), who chairs the panel, said in a statement. “On June 3, Americans will have an opportunity to hear directly from Dr. Fauci about his role in overseeing our nation’s pandemic response, shaping pandemic-era policies, and promoting singular questionable narratives about the origins of COVID-19.”

Fauci has denied wrongdoing, and public health leaders have praised his work and said Republicans have unfairly targeted him.

Debate about the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains, with evolutionary biologists and virologists saying the outbreak probably began because of a “spillover” from infected animals, but some scientists suggesting a leak from a lab was the likely source. A declassified government intelligence report released last year said U.S. intelligence officials were unaware of a lab leak that could have caused the pandemic, adding that officials had no evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese laboratory where researchers were studying coronaviruses, had SARS-CoV-2 or a “close progenitor” in its possession before the outbreak.

“The select subcommittee has not uncovered any evidence that directly implicates Dr. Fauci and [former National Institutes of Health director Francis] Collins in a coverup of the pandemic’s origin or collusion with scientific journals to suppress the lab-leak hypothesis,” Rep. Raul Ruiz (Calif.), the panel’s top Democrat, said at a hearing last week.

The 83-year-old Fauci led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for nearly 40 years, where he forged relationships with prominent politicians, such as then-President George W. Bush, and helped shape the nation’s response to HIV/AIDS, Ebola and other infectious diseases.

The longtime government official quickly became a household name in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, routinely appearing at White House briefings where he urged Americans to wear masks, get vaccinated and take other precautions. Many Americans said they were reassured by his briefings — particularly in contrast to then-President Donald Trump’s freewheeling medical advice, such as endorsing anti-malaria drugs to fight covid. President Biden named Fauci his chief medical adviser, and the Biden administration relied on him as a key spokesman during its vaccine rollout in 2021.

But public confidence in Fauci and other health officials deteriorated amid frustrations about pandemic-era policies such as remote schooling and attacks from GOP lawmakers. Fifty-three percent of Americans in April 2022 said they trusted Fauci’s recommendations on coronavirus vaccines, down from 68 percent in December 2020, according to polling by KFF, a nonpartisan health research organization. The dip was driven by growing Republican skepticism; just 25 percent of Republicans said they trusted Fauci’s coronavirus vaccine recommendations in April 2022, down from 47 percent in December 2020, while Democrats’ trust in Fauci remained largely unchanged.

After leaving government in December 2022, Fauci joined the Georgetown University faculty as a distinguished professor and wrote a memoir set to publish in June.

Fauci privately testified in front of House lawmakers in January, answering questions about his role in the nation’s coronavirus response, whether scientists should experiment with risky viruses in their labs and how his agency funded research abroad. Attendees offered starkly different representations of the closed-door hearings, with Republicans saying Fauci dodged direct questions and changed his answers on lab leak-related issues, while Democrats countered that Fauci was helpful and the GOP-led questions broke little ground.

“The Republicans have totally distorted Dr. Fauci’s testimony,” Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said after the first day of closed-door hearings, adding that she hoped Fauci’s private comments would be quickly made publicly available. The transcript has not yet been published.

Although Fauci has been out of government since late 2022, and many Americans’ focus on the pandemic has dwindled as the virus has receded, he continues to be routinely invoked by Republicans as a political symbol. The coronavirus panel’s GOP lawmakers and their witnesses maintain that the longtime government official exerted too much control over the nation’s pandemic response and should have been regarded with more skepticism.
“The media parroted whatever Fauci and the CDC fed them,” Marty Makary, a Johns Hopkins transplant surgeon and Fox News analyst, said at a hearing last year.

Other notable figures are set to soon face the House panel, including Peter Daszak, president of the New York-based research organization EcoHealth Alliance, who is scheduled to testify next week. EcoHealth has defended its research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and denied any connection between that work and the emergence of SARS-CoV-2.

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Categories: Covid-19
Anton Nieuwenhuizen

Written by:Anton Nieuwenhuizen All posts by the author

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