Amid the swirl of bad news about Covid infections reaching record levels as a large percentage of Americans continue to refuse to get vaccinated, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was giving testimony on Capitol Hill.
Appearing with other experts — including Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration — Fauci’s job was to defend the government’s record during the “massive, unprecedented surge” of Omicron.
“This is an extraordinary virus, the likes of which we have not seen even close to in well over 100 years,” he said on Tuesday, at a hearing of the Senate health committee. “It is a very wily virus that has fooled everybody all the time, from the time it first came in, to Delta, to now Omicron. We’re doing the best we possibly can.”
Yet, it appeared that some of the Republicans on the committee were more keen on attacking the scientist before them than hearing any information or explanation he could provide.
Rand Paul, a senator from Kentucky who has previously clashed with Fauci, accused him of smearing scientists who suggested the Covid vaccine orginated in a lab in Wuhan, China. Fauci told the Senator he was distorting the contents of an email.
“There you go again, you just do the same thing every hearing,” Fauci said. “In usual fashion, Senator, you are distorting everything about me. You keep coming back to personal attacks on me that have absolutely no relevance.” He suggested Paul’s inspiration was both political and financial, showing as part of his presentation a screen from Paul’s campaign website with a call to “Fire Dr Fauci”, alongside links to donate to the campaign. “So you are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain,” Fauci added.
There was more.
Fauci said the attacks on him by people such as Paul, and another Republican senator, Roger Marshall — who he called “completely and unequivocally incorrect” — had real-life impacts.
“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,” he said.
He described how, on December 21, a man was arrested in Iowa while driving from Sacramento to Washington with the intent of killing several government officials. Among his targets was Fauci. “The police asked him where he was going and he was going to Washington DC to kill Dr Fauci,” he said. “They found in his car an AR-15 and multiple magazines of ammunition because he thinks that maybe I’m killing people.”
The exchanges came as the US suffered the highest number of infections for a year, with 132,646 people being sent to hospital on Monday with Covid. That figure surpasses the previous record of 132,051, set almost exactly a year ago. More than 840,000 have died.
If Fauci showed his teeth a little, it was hardly surprising. Indeed, one wonders why he did not defend himself a little more robustly on previous instances. The 81-year-old has been routinely attacked by many on the right since he become the face of Donald Trump’s Covid response team, advocating for mask-wearing, social distancing and vaccines, even as the president did not. At one point. Trump told supporters that Fauci and other scientists were “idiots”.
As Fauci indicated today, America — a nation awash with guns — is no stranger to political violence. The list of individuals who have suffered harm or lost their lives as a result of someone’s anger or misinformation is so long it barely needs repeating. Ronald Reagan was almost killed by a gunman as he left the Hilton Hotel in Washington DC in March 1981. In the summer of 2017, Republican chief whip Steve Scalise was previously injured by a man with a gun as he and other legislators played baseball.
A year on from the January 6 riot, many Americans feel the nation has rarely felt so unsafe or anxious. The last thing anyone needs is another “excuse” to do something stupid.
Rand Paul ought to know that. He was among the dozen members of the House and Senate who were playing baseball when they were attacked by a left-wing extremist. Scalise and a lobbyist were seriously hurt, along with a Capitol Hill police officer, and a congressional aide. Paul said afterwards that, had it not been for the protective detail who engaged in a 10-minute gun fight to protect the legislators, it “would have been a massacre”. Has he already forgotten?
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