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Jim Jordan presses Fauci on protests, COVID-19

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanPortman planned exit sets off Ohio free-for-all Portman retirement sparks calls for LeBron James Senate bid Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear MORE (R-Ohio) pressed Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci was concerned people would do 'dangerous and foolish' things after Trump suggested injecting disinfectant GOP lawmaker wants to ban feds from funding collection of COVID-19 vaccine info Overnight Health Care: Biden says anyone who wants vaccine may be able to get it by spring | Moderna says vaccine effective on variants, but tests booster shot | California lifts regional stay-at-home order MORE with a series of combative questions on Friday, asking him whether the government should limit protests to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Jordan, a close ally of President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, drilled down on Fauci at a House hearing, echoing an argument often made by conservatives that there is a double standard when liberals and some public health experts support widespread Black Lives Matter protests, which bring together thousands of people, but push for restrictions on other gatherings like those at churches.

Fauci did not address the protests directly, but said more broadly: "Avoid crowds of any type no matter where you are ... I don't judge one crowd versus another crowd."

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Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) later pushed back on Jordan's comments, pointing to the importance of the civil rights movement protests. "I'm sitting here as the result of a protest," he said. 

Clyburn pointed to his 60-year relationship with the late Rep. John LewisJohn LewisThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Harris now 'the most influential woman' in American politics Georgia Democrat introduces bill to bar Trump from Capitol after term ends MORE (D-Ga.), who has been honored with a series of tributes this week. 

"We met protesting, trying to get off the back of the bus, trying to integrate schools," Clyburn said. "I'm glad the government did not limit our protest." 

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While it is hard to know for sure how much the protests have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus, there have not been widespread clear spikes in cases due to them.

Protests are outside, which helps reduce transmission, and many attendees at protests wore and continue to wear masks. Still, Fauci noted it is a risk any time there are crowds of people.

When Jordan pressed for a direct answer on the protests, saying, "So the protests don't increase the spread of the virus?" Fauci shot back: "I didn't say that, you're putting words in my mouth."

"I just want an answer to the question, do the protests increase the spread of the virus?" Jordan said.

"I can tell you that crowds are known, particularly when you don't have a mask, to increase the acquisition and transmission, no matter what the crowd is," Fauci replied.

Asked if the government should limit the protests, as it has other gatherings like those at churches, Fauci said that is not for him to decide.

"I'm not in a position to determine what the government can do in a forceful way," Fauci said.

Jordan later responded to Clyburn by expressing concern for police officers responding to the protests, saying he's "not talking about the violence, but the exposure they have to the coronavirus," urging officials to track that data.