WASHINGTON – Dr Anthony Fauci has been a political lightning rod since the early days of the pandemic, acclaimed by the left and vilified by the right.
But with the publication of a mine of emails from Fauci last week, the political attacks by Republicans on the country’s top government infectious disease expert have become excessive.
On conservative news channels, President Joe Biden’s pandemic adviser has been baselessly pilloried as a liar who misled the American people about the origins of COVID-19 to protect the Chinese government. There is no evidence of wrongdoing, but Republican calls for his resignation have multiplied, as have demands for further investigations into the origins of the virus.
“Considering what we know now, I don’t know how anyone can be confident that they have to remain in a position of public trust and authority,” Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri said, a hopeful presidential candidate that calls for Fauci’s resignation. and a full congressional investigation.
The Republicans’ policy measures represent a new effort to find a reliable foil in the early months of the Biden administration, as they struggled to turn public opinion against the new president. So far, Biden has enjoyed broad endorsement of the job, backed by broad public support for his handling of the pandemic, which 71% of Americans support, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public poll. Affairs Research.
Fauci, who has a security detail due to ongoing threats and who did not respond to a request for comment for this story, has repeatedly defended his work, claiming to have received thousands of emails and no have never ruled out any theory.
“I still think that the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human, but I keep an absolutely open mind that if there can be other origins, there can be some other reason, that could have been a lab leak, “Fauci told CNN Thursday.
Emails recently released by the doctor, which cover the early days of the pandemic and were obtained by BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post, show no evidence of any cover-up of the origin of the virus. Indeed, many of the discussions reflect science at the time. But Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have seized the emails as evidence of a plot to cover up the source of the virus.
In an email from February 1 of last year, Kristian Andersen, a researcher at the Scripps Research Institute, wrote to Fauci, longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the efforts in course to decipher the origin of the new coronavirus.
At the time, the hypothesis of a laboratory leak was widely rejected by experts. It has recently gained traction, although the origins of the virus remain unknown.
“The unusual features of the virus are only a very small part of the genome (0.1%), so you have to take a very close look at all of the sequences to see that some of the features appear (potentially) designed,” Andersen wrote. He said that he and his colleagues “all find the genome incompatible with the expectations of the theory of evolution. But, “he added,” we need to look at this a lot more closely and there is still more analysis to be done, so those opinions may still change. “
The next month it turned out they had. He and his colleagues published an article in Nature Medicine in which they concluded that it was “unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 had emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.”
In another email, Fauci was thanked by the head of a nonprofit organization that helped fund research at the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan, “for publicly standing up and saying that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin, “which he says” will help dispel myths. be turned around the origins of the virus.
Andersen, the scientist who wrote the “engineered” email, attempted to provide further explanation.
“As I have said on several occasions, we seriously considered the possibility of a lab leak. However, important new data, in-depth analysis and a lot of discussion led to the conclusions of our article. What the email shows is a clear example of the scientific process, ”he tweeted amid the reaction.
“It’s just science,” he later added. “Boring, I know, but it’s a very useful thing to have in times of uncertainty. “
The former president does not agree. During his tenure, Trump, who scorned the scientist’s popularity, frequently flouted Fauci’s recommendations on tackling COVID-19 by downplaying the severity of the pandemic and often touting unproven scientific cures, including a drug against malaria and even the injection of disinfectant. And he has frequently tried to undermine Fauci’s credibility by refusing to recognize scientists’ evolving understanding of the virus and its spread, which has informed guidance on policies such as masking.
Trump is expected to attack Fauci again when he returns to the public eye during a speech in North Carolina on Saturday night. He sees the emails as further proof that he was right about the doctor, according to an adviser who requested anonymity to describe private conversations.
“There are a lot of questions Dr. Fauci needs to answer,” Trump said in a statement this week. “What did Dr. Fauci know about ‘gain-of-function’ research, and when did he find out?” ”
“Gain of function” refers to the increased severity or transmissibility of a virus.
Republican House Whip Representative Steve Scalise told Fox Business Network on Thursday that Fauci “must be taken under oath to answer questions” on the emails, while Elise Stefanik, RN.Y., now Republican # 3 in the House, launched a fundraising email with the subject line “FIRE FAUCI”.
“The emails and investigative reports recently released by Anthony Fauci into the origins of # COVID19 are shocking. Now is the time for Fauci to step down and a full congressional investigation into the origins of # COVID19 – and all efforts to prevent full accounting, ”Hawley tweeted after recently voting with Scalise and Stefanik to block a full congressional investigation. on the origins of the January 6 uprising.
But the White House has made it clear that it is on Fauci’s side, despite the onslaught of critics.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week hailed Fauci as “an undeniable asset in our country’s pandemic response,” and Biden felt compelled to turn his head in a room full of reporters he left on Friday to say he was, indeed, “very confident in Dr Fauci.” In a show of support, Fauci will join First Lady Jill Biden for a visit to a vaccination clinic in New York on Sunday.
Officials in the Biden administration and their allies point out that polls show Fauci is still one of the most trusted public health communicators in the country. Privately, they see the GOP’s emphasis on Fauci as a ploy to energize their base that is unlikely to resonate with moderate voters. And they’re happy to compare Fauci’s public health record with Trump’s.
“A note to Fauci’s critics,” tweeted Andy Slavitt, outgoing Biden senior adviser on COVID-19. “For years, he worked tirelessly on the development of the mRNA vaccine in anticipation of a possible major viral epidemic. And on January 11, 2020, his team uploaded the genetic sequence and on January 13 began work on the vaccine. “
“So keep it low,” he wrote.