GOP anger against ‘bureaucrat’ Fauci grows after new criticisms

REUTERS

(The Hill) — Anthony Fauci has taken Republican rage to a new level by claiming that Republicans who criticize him are “really criticizing science because I represent science.”

The right exploded over the weekend remarks from an interview with “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan, claiming that the remarks highlight a scolding presence from the government’s foremost infectious disease expert that dismisses concerns from their voters about his coronavirus advice.

“It’s astounding and alarming that a public health bureaucrat would even think to claim such a thing,” fumed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has repeatedly feuded with Fauci at public hearings over the past several years.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) grumbled that the comments were “just another example of how these bureaucrats think that they are the science, that they represent the epitome of knowledge.”

Given the public’s fatigue with the coronavirus, Republicans have long seen Fauci as a useful punching bag, and his role as a health care adviser to President Joe Biden has made him more of a partisan figure this year.

Cotton on Tuesday said, “Tony Fauci is nothing more than a Democratic operative,” a sentiment that appears to be growing in GOP circles.

Criticism of Fauci has served as a sure-fire way to revitalize the GOP’s conservative base and appeal to former President Donald Trump, providing an incentive for GOP senators with national ambitions to fire back. Cotton is viewed as a possible presidential candidate, whereas Paul was defeated by Trump in the GOP primary in 2016.

Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), a 2016 Republican presidential candidate who many believe will run again, has led the GOP charge. He had tweeted or retweeted something critical of Fauci at least 20 times since Monday, as of Tuesday afternoon.

One such retweet spread a DailyMail.com article in which Cruz calls Fauci “the most dangerous bureaucrat in the history of America” and claims he faces prison time for denying that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded gain-of-function virus research at a lab in Wuhan, China.

Attacks on Fauci have been especially horrific in the last 18 months, raising concerns about his safety.

On Monday, Lara Logan, a Fox News Media streaming host, compared him to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who worked at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The Auschwitz Memorial and Museum were among those condemning the remarks, which it said were “exploiting the tragedy of people who became victims of criminal pseudo-medical experiments in Auschwitz in a debate about vaccines, pandemics, and people who fight for saving human lives is shameful.”

Some Republicans have long been concerned that their colleagues’ attacks on public health officials would undermine trust in public health officials and their own efforts to increase vaccination rates across the country.

“A lot of politics today is performance politics, which is saying things which excite the bases of our respective parties,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) when asked about the salvos directed at Fauci from fellow Republican senators.

“I look at Dr. Fauci as an expert in disease and viruses [and] respect his point of view. He’s not perfect; like all humans, he will make mistakes. Politicizing him is just par for the course these days in our highly politicized environment, but I respect him as a scientist,” he added.

Other Senate Republicans have distanced themselves from the attacks on Fauci as well.

“I think everybody’s had a really challenging job with a virus that we are still struggling to understand, and both the data and the science appear to be constantly changing so everybody in those discussions can easily find themselves in a tough place,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the ranking Republican on the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

“I’ve known him a long time and I like him, and I’ve admired his work with vaccines,” he added of Fauci. “I think probably he’s been trying to explain a very hard thing for a long time and a lot of circumstances change and that’s a tough place to be.”

Romney admitted that his campaign to demonize Fauci “seems to be working politically.”

“I think that’s one of the unfortunate realities of our new performance politics,” he added, warning “there’s no question” that attacks on public health officials are undermining public trust in health recommendations, such as vaccination recommendations.

Fauci has not taken Paul’s criticism gently, telling the Kentucky senator in a July hearing that he had lied to Congress: “Sen. Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly.”

Republican critics of Fauci are quick to point out times when he was wrong, such as early in the pandemic when he and other health officials advised against wearing masks. Fauci explained that he was concerned that there would not be enough protective equipment for health care providers, and that the virus’s transmissibility was still unknown.

He was also chastised by critics in October for saying it was “too soon to tell” whether people would be able to celebrate Christmas with their families, comments he later said were misrepresented.

The most contentious issue with conservatives is his denial at a Senate hearing in May that the NIH had funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan through the nongovernmental organization EcoHealth Alliance.

According to Cruz and Paul, new evidence shows that Fauci misrepresented the facts, but the NIH has yet to acknowledge that the research in question met the criteria for gain-of-function research.

Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin believes Fauci has become a political liability for Biden.

“He hasn’t had Fauci out much lately and the reason is that he’s got high negatives. More than half the voters are unfavorable to the guy now,” McLaughlin said, referring to Fauci’s approval numbers. “People don’t trust him anymore. Look, Democrats like him, think he’s good, but I’m telling you, the Republican base and the swing voters don’t trust him anymore. They think he’s a political hack.”

However, Fauci was standing next to Biden on Monday when the president made remarks about the new omicron variant, which has sparked new concerns about the pandemic. This suggests that Biden sees more advantages to working with Fauci than downsides.

Fauci, who is 80 years old, says he will not step down as Biden’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases until the COVID-19 pandemic is “in the rearview mirror.”

“I’m going to keep doing that until this COVID-19 outbreak is in the rearview mirror, regardless of what anybody says about me, or wants to lie and create crazy fabrications because of political motivations,” he told CBS earlier this month.

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