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Takeaways from Fauci’s House hearing

During his first congressional hearing in nearly two years, former chief White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci picked up where he left off: trading barbs with Republicans over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fauci’s public testimony before the House Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic was long anticipated and preceded by two days of closed-door interviews in January. 

More recent hearings that focused on Fauci’s former subordinates have raised new questions about whether he was aware of and complicit in misconduct with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the agency he headed for decades before retiring at the end of 2022. 

The longtime government scientist made no effort to hide his dismay when grilled on various conspiracy theories or unfounded claims about his actions regarding COVID-19. And the hearing was marked by some chaotic moments, involving both the House members and  Fauci critics in the audience. 

Here are some takeaways from the hearing. 

Condemns actions of former adviser

Fauci faced multiple questions about former NIAID senior adviser David Morens, who worked with Fauci for several decades.

Congressional investigators found that Morens appeared to have attempted to avoid Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by using his personal email account to communicate with outside entities such as EcoHealth President Peter Daszak. 

“I can either send stuff to Tony on his private gmail, or hand it to him at work or at his house. He is too smart to let colleagues send him stuff that could cause trouble,” Morens once wrote to Daszak. 

Morens also claimed to Daszak that Fauci was seeking to protect EcoHealth from losing a grant. 

Fauci on Monday emphatically denied the claims and implications in the emails. He even stated he was unsure if Morens reported directly to him, as Morens had claimed.

“With respect to his recent testimony before this subcommittee, I knew nothing of Dr. Morens’s actions regarding Dr. Daszak, EcoHealth or his emails. It is important to point out for the record that despite his title, and even though he was helpful to me in writing scientific papers, Dr. Morens was not an advisor to me on [NIAID] policy, or other substantive issues,” Fauci said in his opening remarks. 

He further refuted claims from Morens that he conducted any official business on his personal email, though he acknowledged it was “conceivable” that he communicated with Morens on a private email for the purpose of writing ”medical scientific chapters” together. 

Distancing himself from COVID guidance, lab-leak debate

Along with distancing himself from Morens, Fauci also played down his personal influence on pandemic guidance that came out early in the outbreak.  

One particular issue that was frequently revisited during the hearing was the guidance to stay 6 feet apart to reduce transmission of the virus. During his closed-door interview, Fauci said the 6-feet guidance “sort of just appeared” — a remark that drew the ire of GOP members. 

“It actually came from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. The CDC was responsible for those kinds of guidelines for schools, not me,” Fauci said. “It had little to do with me, since I didn’t make the recommendation. And my saying there was no science behind it means there was no clinical trial that proved that. That’s just one of the things that got a little distorted.” 

He also refuted accusations that he had sought to cover or downplay a potential lab-leak theory on the origins of the pandemic. 

“Two participants have testified before this subcommittee that I did not try to steer the discussion in any direction,” Fauci said. 

He called claims that he sought to influence or bribe scientists investigating COVID “simply preposterous,” adding he gave “no input” on a published paper exploring the potential origins of COVID that learned towards a natural origins theory. 

He read off old emails in which he discussed with colleagues the need for further investigation. 

“It is inconceivable that anyone who reads this email could conclude that I was trying to cover up the possibility of a lab leak. I have always kept an open mind to the different possibilities,” he said. 

However, Fauci did say he continued to believe natural origin was a more likely theory. 

Greene’s questioning  

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) questioning of Fauci marked the most contentious moment of the hearing. Democrats were quick to call for a point of order as she pointedly refused to recognize Fauci as a doctor. 

“Mr. Fauci, because you’re not doctor, you’re Mr. Fauci in my few minutes,” Greene said, refusing to allow Fauci to respond. This quip led Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) to call for a point of order. Greene in turn called Raskin “Mr. Raskin.” 

“Just in terms of the rules of decorum, are we allowed to deny that a doctor is a doctor just because we don’t want him to be a doctor?” Raskin asked subcommittee Chair Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). 

“Yes, because in my time, that man does not deserve to have a license. As a matter of fact, it should be revoked, and he belongs in jail,” Greene responded. 

Wenstrup, who himself is a physician, repeatedly, and loudly, ordered Greene to suspend her line of questioning and stated she “should recognize the doctor as a doctor.” 

“Mr. Chairman. Is this what we have become? Is this what we have devolved into?” Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) asked. 

After reclaiming her time, Greene held up a photo of Fauci at a Washington Nationals baseball game in 2020 not wearing a mask. She blasted Fauci for apparent hypocrisy as children in schools and the public at large were advised to wear masks. 

“We should be recommending you to be prosecuted,” Greene said, accusing Fauci of “crimes against humanity.” “You belong in prison, Dr. Fauci,” she added. 

Greene’s contentious questioning of Fauci was met with applause by some in the audience who appeared to have come to the hearing to speak out against Fauci. 

Several members of the public who were in the audience were seen wearing T-shirts that read “Got Ivermectin?” an apparent reference to the antiparasitic drug that former President Trump touted as an effective COVID-19 treatment.  

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has continuously stated that no evidence has been uncovered to suggest ivermectin is effective at treating SARS-CoV-2. 

Some heckling was heard from the public attendees throughout the hearing. One person loudly said “calm down” at one point after Fauci answered a question. Two hecklers were removed from the room by U.S. Capitol Police officers. 

The first instance occurred when a young woman who appeared to claim she was a doctor attempted to interrupt Fauci. Wenstrup had her escorted out before she could finish what she was saying. 

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) said, “You can take your Starbucks with you,” to the woman as she was being led out. 

Later on in the hearing, a man was removed from the room after standing up and saying, “Fauci, you belong in jail.” 

This remark seemed to catch Fauci’s attention, with him stopping to say, “What is that? We need to listen to that?” 

After the hearing ended, several of the public attendees who appeared to be against Fauci gathered behind him, though he did not acknowledge them before quickly exiting the hearing room through the back. 

Democrats say they learned nothing new  

Immediately following the hearing, Democrats on the committee told reporters that they didn’t believe anything new had been learned from Fauci’s testimony. 

“Nope, not a single thing, just that they wanted to continue to promote their false allegations and continue to confuse the American people and Dr. Fauci’s word even though he’s explained under context and under oath what he meant by everything that he said,” ranking member Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) said. 

“He absolutely answered under oath in a way that refuted all the false accusations from Republicans,” Ruiz added. “Now, whether or not that is clear for them and whether or not they will drop their senseless and baseless accusation, I don’t know.” 

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) accused Republicans on the committee of carrying out “a lot of witch hunts” during the hearing, adding that she believed his testimony aligned with the testimony he gave earlier this year. 

“The effort to smear and vilify Dr. Fauci parallels their effort to smear and impeach Joe Biden. Both of them were complete failures because there’s no evidence behind any of it, but it does reflect their new style of political character assassination,” Raskin said.

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