Leading Republicans in Congress are calling for Dr. Anthony Fauci to resign or be fired as the nation's top virologist.
They have a bunch of different reasons, but what they argue in common is that Fauci should have backed Donald Trump's move to blame China for either accidental or intentional leak of coronavirus from a Wuhan lab. Joe Biden's White House says Fauci is here to stay and live with it.
Eventually, cooler heads might actually get together to decide what this fuss is all about.
But for me, at least, absolutely nothing good for public health happens if this 80-year-old icon of a research doctor decides to stay home tomorrow. Fauci's would-be hastened departure might make selected Republican leaders feel good about the empty echo of their voices, but were Fauci to concede that he doesn't need these public whippings, the nation will solve exactly no problems.
If anything, Fauci's resignation would merely add to the now long-list of I-wish-it-were-so thinking that substitutes for rigor these days. We'd still face the prospects of annual vaccines, we'd still have confusion about whether in-store shopping is fully safe from covid, and we would be absolutely no closer to knowing whether coronavirus leaked from that Wuhan lab or what to do about it even if it did.
Why are they bothering to bark at this wrong tree? Now that we are emerging from the worst of coronavirus, what is to be gained from dumping Fauci besides some perceived political standing.
Noise vs. Substance
Basically, there is a lot of noise here, with few trying to separate what matters from what does not.
More than a week ago, The Washington Post and BuzzFeed News published previously unreleased. Fauci emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Those emails gave conservatives who have long questioned Fauci's covid handling something to latch on to beyond the shifts in his public comments to which Fauci has freely discussed as changing views with changing medical information.
The argument is that emails show Fauci wasn't forthcoming or curious enough when he cast doubt on the lab leak theory and argued for a more cautious covid response than did Trump, who wants to send the Chinese a $10 trillion bill to cover economic losses. Conservative media keeps referring to them as "smoking guns," prompting. Rand Paul, R-Ky, who argues with Fauci about everything from masks to vaccine safety, and now House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who basically sees all issues as political, calling for Fauci's head.
Looking at the Emails
The Washington Post actually went through the disclosures in the heavily redacted emails, which you can do too. You can pull out a phrase here or there that seems to suggest that Fauci too early dismissed a leak, followed by the news media reports quoting him, but basically Fauci keeps saying we need more information.
Other conservative media quotes have highlighted changing views on masks, and one with redacted emails with Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg that is suggested to de-emphasize mentions of anti-vaxx ideas, alternative treatment ideas pushed by Trump, and the like. The redactions make it difficult to see what the case here is. But when it came to the use of Hydroxychloroquine, but again, what Fauci said, essentially, was, show me the data.
One America Network is beating the drum over documents disclosed by right-leaning Judicial Watch that show the Wuhan lab received $800,000 over six years from the Department of Health and Human Services. Fauci has owned up to that too, arguing with Senator Paul over the nature of the research before Congress, and Fauci has countered that that the criticism is "anti-science."
Why Attack Fauci?
This what-to-do-about-Fauci is not actually about Fauci, of course, which makes this vilification campaign even more useless. It's about politics to make Trump look better in retrospect, and to tag the Biden team or Democrats or Fauci himself as the standard-bearer for disease and shutdown.
It's about anti-elitism and anti-government-sponsored lockdowns and rules. It's about coronavirus bullyism, almost regardless of what side you back.
We should be fighting about that, not about trying to tag a single guy as representing everything that a portion of the public really dislikes. The Rand Pauls want Science to say what they think it says, most of the medical and research.
Indeed, in recent days, we've learned that there was a major dispute within the State Department, not the National Institutes of Health, over how hard it is to pursue the lab leak theories. The contents of the classified document prepared by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California in 2020 were the basis for the State Department investigation begun under former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to The Wall Street Journal, but there was debate from others, and Biden first halted the effort over disagreements, then ordered intelligence agencies to come up with a view within 90 days.
But that's not Fauci.
Fauci heads a whole agency that pursues vaccine development, and he hobnobs with his counterparts the world over. To my understanding, he doesn't conduct investigations in other countries. Rather we have depended on the World Health Organization, which has proved pretty tepid as investigators, and our own intelligence agencies, which seem divided without first-hand knowledge.
What exactly do these Republican leaders think is going to happen differently if Fauci disappears? For that matter, what exactly happens on the day that we decide the disease did leak from the lab – accidentally or intentionally.
Whatever the response, it won't come from Fauci.