GOP’s attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message
Former President Trump and his GOP allies have stepped up attacks on Anthony Fauci, seizing on portions of his emails and a renewed interest in the origins of the coronavirus pandemic to demonize the nation’s top infectious disease doctor.
The attacks, which are largely based on out-of-context comments and draw on unsubstantiated conclusions, gloss over the Trump administration’s role in the nation’s early failures to respond to the pandemic.
Instead, conservative lawmakers and media personalities are lionizing the former president as someone betrayed by his advisers. Fauci is painted as a liar who misled both Trump and the American people, and is now facing calls for his resignation, prosecution, or both.
“Anthony Fauci’s recently released emails and investigative reporting about #COVID19 origins are shocking. The time has come for Fauci to resign and for a full congressional investigation into the origins of #COVID19 – and into any and all efforts to prevent a full accounting,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tweeted recently.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who frequently clashes with Fauci, also renewed calls for his resignation.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the No. 3 Republican in the House, sent a fundraising email last week with the subject line “FIRE FAUCI.”
The effort to rehabilitate Trump at Fauci’s expense thrusts the nation’s COVID-19 response back into the center of the political arena. It also comes as most Americans are ready to move on from the coronavirus pandemic.
The seven-day average of new infections is under 15,000 cases, its lowest level since late March 2020. Most states have also lifted masking and capacity restrictions.
But the gains have come because of vaccinations, and health experts warn the GOP effort could sow distrust in the Biden administration at a vulnerable time.
The nation’s vaccination effort has stalled with a growing partisan divide in vaccination rates between red states and blue states.
Public health experts say the nation needs widespread immunity to prevent a resurgence this fall, and trusted messengers are needed to convince many of the remaining people to get vaccinated.
The attacks on Fauci and public health officials “continues to sow seeds of doubt in the minds, particularly of Trump supporters, that the science isn’t to be trusted, and that what experts are telling them isn’t true,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law Center.
“And anytime you are sending that kind of a message, during a vital campaign to vaccinate the population, it is highly damaging,” Gostin said.
While in office, Trump frequently ignored the recommendations of the scientific community, including Fauci, by seeking to downplay the severity of the virus early in the weeks before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear,” Trump promised in February 2020, two weeks before he declared an emergency.
He almost never wore masks, decrying them as a sign of weakness. He touted unproven, and later debunked, “miracle cures” like hydroxychloroquine, and at one White House press briefing, suggested people could inject disinfectant as a cure.
Trump also largely avoided taking responsibility for the national response, instead letting individual states take the lead, resulting in a chaotic, disjointed reaction.
But even as nearly 600,000 people have died, the former president and his allies want to keep the spotlight, and the blame, squarely on Fauci.
“Dr. Fauci, who I actually got along with, he’s a nice guy, he’s a great promoter. Not a great doctor, but he’s a hell of a promoter,” Trump said at a GOP event in North Carolina on Saturday. “He likes television more than politicians in this room and they like television. But he’s been wrong on almost every issue and he was wrong on Wuhan and the lab also.”
“But Fauci has, perhaps, never been more wrong than when he denied the virus and where it came from,” Trump added.
Fauci said in a recent interview with Rachel Maddow that identifying the origin of COVID-19 is important to prevent another widespread outbreak.
“It is important to understand that. But it is being approached now in a very vehement way, in a very distorted way I believe, by attacking me,” Fauci said.
Top Republicans, including Trump, blamed China for the emergence of the virus in 2020, but early reports about the possibility that the coronavirus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology were mostly dismissed.
U.S. public health officials and experts are increasingly lending credibility to the need for a deeper investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, but while so far there is no definitive proof the virus leaked from a lab, there’s also not enough evidence that it definitively jumped from an animal to humans, either.
Officials have also noted that even if the virus escaped from a lab, that doesn’t mean it was manufactured in one.
Still, Trump and other Republicans are saying they were right and are pressing Democrats to open an investigation.
“To me it was obvious from the beginning but I was badly criticized, as usual. Now they are all saying ‘He was right.’ Thank you!” Trump said in a recent statement.
Some Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators have seized on connections between Fauci and the Wuhan lab, drawing unsubstantiated conclusions that Fauci was responsible for helping fund what would become the creation of the coronavirus that caused the global pandemic.
They argue that not only did the virus leak from a lab, it was created with funding dating back to the Obama administration, and the current Biden administration is covering it up.
Some former Trump administration officials expressed their discontent that Fauci has gotten a pass from Democrats and some in the media for shifting his views on the pandemic, with the origin theory emerging as the latest flashpoint, while Trump and others had their views on the lab theory dismissed as out of hand.
One former official cautioned that while officials like Fauci should be held accountable, the escalated rhetoric against the doctor threatens to do more harm than good at a time when misinformation and divisive viewpoints could undercut efforts to end the pandemic.
“Lack of absolute candor hurts,” said the former administration official, who worked on the virus response. “The truth wins out in the end, and when people aren’t honest about science or facts it hurts, whether it’s masks or origins or vaccines.”
Brett Samuels contributed.