Dr. Fauci to Rand Paul: ‘If anybody is lying here, Senator, it is you’
WASHINGTON — Certainties may be rare in Washington these days, but blowups between Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top medical adviser to President Biden, have become one of the few reliable features of life inside the Beltway, right up there with the relentless humidity of summer.
That much was made clear, once again, during , during which the two sparred over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Paul accused Fauci of misrepresenting, in earlier testimony, the nature of U.S. government funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, where as the result of a lab experiment gone awry. He ended his customarily long question by reminding Fauci that it was a “crime to lie to Congress.”
Fauci did not take to the suggestion kindly. “I have not lied before the Congress,” the responded. He rejected Paul’s offer to “retract” his earlier testimony about U.S. funding of viral research into the pandemic’s shadowy beginnings.
“Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly,” Fauci continued. “And I want to say that officially.”
Never one for niceties, Paul charged that Fauci was trying to “obscure responsibility” for the devastation the coronavirus has caused around the world.
From there, things escalated, unsurprisingly. “I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating,” Fauci snarled back at the Senator.
There was shouting and gesticulating, lots of heat but little light. Committee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wa., tried to intervene, to little effect.
As evidence of his allegation, Paul cited a scientific research paper into bat viruses by a Wuhan researcher. The research in question had been partially supported by the National Institutes of Health. (In addition to serving as an adviser to the White House, Fauci is head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the NIH.)
Fauci, in turn, told Paul, who is an ophthalmologist by training, that he failed to understand the research, adding that it was “molecularly impossible” for the Wuhan Institute of Virology to have conducted the kind of research that would have led to the advent of SARS-CoV-2.
Paul has previously said that the NIH did not permit Chinese laboratories to use funds from the U.S. for gain-of-function research, which boosts viruses in order to study their behavior.
Conservatives have seized on Fauci’s email exchanges with other scientists — which were made public as part of a Freedom of Information Law request — to suggest that he is hiding the complicity of the U.S. medical establishment. There is no evidence of such complicity, or of a coverup, but the lack of cooperation from Beijing has allowed conspiracy theories about Fauci and others to proliferate.
“If anybody is lying here, Senator, it is you,” Fauci said near the end of their terse exchange, which as he himself noted, has fallen into a somewhat predictable “pattern.”
Indeed, Fauci and Paul were not exactly friends before Tuesday’s exchange. At a hearing in June 2020, , though Fauci had said that he supported reopening schools for in-person instruction, provided proper preventative measures like mask-wearing were taken.
Before answering the Senator, Fauci offered what appeared to be a good-natured smile, saying that he was in “lock agreement” about school reopening.
The exchanges between them would grow more acrimonious, with ever fewer agreements and smiles. That may have had to do with conservatives growing hostility towards Fauci, , despite having also served as his adviser.
In March 2021, Fauci and Paul argued at a Senate hearing on face masks, which had by then been the subject of an intense culture war but were also widely accepted as a fact of pandemic life by most Americans. Paul wondered why Fauci and others who were vaccinated “parade around in two masks for show,” since vaccinated people appear to be at exceptionally low risk for either contracting or spreading the coronavirus.
“I totally disagree with you,” Fauci responded. He then went on a morning news show and “dead wrong.”
Several weeks later, Paul confronted Fauci with the same issue that was at the heart of Tuesday’s exchange: whether the NIH inadvertently funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab that has been at the center of scrutiny over the pandemic’s beginnings. Such research is necessary, scientists say, to see how viruses evolve. But if that research is conducted in a laboratory with lax biosecurity standards, the danger of the virus “escaping” could increase substantially.
During the May encounter, that Paul’s accusation of potential imporperity was “entirely and completely incorrect.”
Fauci and NIH director Dr. Francis Collins that the NIH did not fund gain-of-function research. The funding went through an intermediary called EcoHealth Alliance, a New York based not-for-profit whose founder, Dr. Peter Daszak, has a close relationship with virologists in Wuhan and has vigorously defended them against accusations of wrongdoing.
Although conservatives like Paul have long championed the lab escape hypothesis, the notion that human error is responsible for the coronavirus with the American public.
President Biden the U.S. intelligence community to produce an assessment of how the pandemic originated. That assessment is expected by summer’s end.
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times /Pool via AP