GOP plots Fauci probe after midterms

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(The Hill) — Congressional Republicans are eagerly floating investigations into Anthony Fauci and the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic if they win back control of the House or Senate in the midterm elections. 

“One way or another, if we are in the majority, we will subpoena his records and he will testify in the Senate under oath,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is in line to become the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee if Republicans win the majority with the panel’s current ranking member, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), retiring. 

Republicans have not been shy about launching probes into the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on the origins of the virus and whether the federal government — and by extension, Fauci — helped fund controversial research that might have played a role in its creation.

While Republicans have been in the minority, those investigations have not gained much momentum. But with the majority, the GOP would have the authority to lob subpoenas at the administration to force it to hand over documents. 

“If we win in November, if I’m chairman of a committee, if I have subpoena power, we’ll go after every one of [Fauci’s] records,” Paul said earlier this year.

Public health experts said a hard look needs to be taken at the totality of the U.S. response to the pandemic across both the Trump and Biden administrations, but without getting into partisan finger-pointing.

“If you want to have a hearing, you need it to be a credible one. And that has to have a purpose. Other than going out to an 81 year old man,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Benjamin has been among health advocates pushing for an independent commission modeled on the 9/11 Commission to be formed to examine the pandemic response.

“It should be designed to actually get to the right answers. Until they do that, you know, they’re gonna continue to politicize it,” Benjamin said.

Fauci is a career government official who has become a political lightning rod and a villain in the eyes of many on the right. Conservative media has painted him as a scapegoat for many of the nation’s missteps over the pandemic.

Paul, a libertarian ophthalmologist, has repeatedly antagonized the nation’s top infectious diseases doctor over the benefits of masks, vaccinations and the origins of COVID-19. 

In March, Paul tried to attach to the pandemic relief bill a proposal eliminating Fauci’s job and dividing it into three positions.

In the House, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is in line to chair the Judiciary Committee if Republicans win the majority, told The Hill that he sees no limits to what he wants to investigate about Fauci and the pandemic.

Like Paul, Jordan has pressed Fauci to answer questions about whether his agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, funded “gain of function” research in China.

Jordan and Paul have long pushed the idea that COVID-19 escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, either because of an accident or because it was deliberately released, and that U.S.-funded research helped supercharge it into a much more dangerous and deadly version of the coronavirus.

Speaking to right-wing news outlet Just The News earlier this year, Jordan said he envisions that the investigation would aim to untangle “all the lies [and] the misinformation, the disinformation” allegedly spread by Fauci.

“That is because they knew from the get-go [coronavirus] came from the lab, likely came from a lab, gain-of-function likely done, and our tax dollars were used,” Jordan said. 

The U.S. intelligence community has ruled out the possibility that COVID-19 was a bioweapon developed by China, but beyond that the origins of the virus are unclear. 

Some scientists have said the idea that it escaped from a lab needs further investigation, but acknowledge that won’t happen without China’s help. Many others think that it spilled into the human population from animals sold in a Wuhan market.

Still, there is little evidence to suggest it was created in a lab or with funding help from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or Fauci. 

Rupali Limaye, a health communication scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said a nakedly partisan investigation of Fauci would do even more damage to the fraying public trust in health officials.

“I do think that public officials should be held responsible, you should be able to question and think critically about the recommendations that they have made, but it’s also a slippery slope,” Limaye said. 

“Going down this slippery slope of continuing to have investigation after investigation after investigation is not in the best interest for anyone,” Limaye said.

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