UNITED STATES NEWS

Fauci pushes back partisan attacks in fiery House hearing over COVID origins and controversies

Jun 3, 2024, 7:43 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert until leaving the government in 2022, was back before Congress on Monday, calling “simply preposterous” Republican allegations that he’d tried to cover up origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A GOP-led subcommittee has spent over a year probing the nation’s response to the pandemic and whether U.S.-funded research in China may have played any role in how it started — yet found no evidence linking Fauci to wrongdoing.

He’d already been grilled behind closed doors, for 14 hours over two days in January. But Monday, Fauci testified voluntarily in public and on camera at a hearing that quickly deteriorated into partisan attacks.

Republicans repeated unproven accusations against the longtime National Institutes of Health scientist while Democrats apologized for Congress besmirching his name and bemoaned a missed opportunity to prepare for the next scary outbreak.

“He is not a comic book super villain,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., saying the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic had failed to prove a list of damaging allegations.

Fauci was the public face of the government’s early COVID-19 response under then-President Donald Trump and later as an adviser to President Joe Biden. A trusted voice to millions, he also was the target of partisan anger and choked up Monday as he recalled death threats and other harassment of himself and his family, threats he said still continue. Police later escorted hecklers out of the hearing room.

The main issue: Many scientists believe the virus most likely emerged in nature and jumped from animals to people, probably at a wildlife market in Wuhan, the city in China where the outbreak began. There’s no new scientific information supporting that the virus might instead have leaked from a laboratory. A U.S. intelligence analysis says there’s insufficient evidence to prove either way — and a recent Associated Press investigation found the Chinese government froze critical efforts to trace the source of the virus in the first weeks of the outbreak.

Fauci has long said publicly that he was open to both theories but that there’s more evidence supporting COVID-19’s natural origins, the way other deadly viruses including coronavirus cousins SARS and MERS jumped into people. It was a position he repeated Monday as Republican lawmakers questioned if he worked behind-the-scenes to squelch the lab-leak theory or even tried to influence intelligence agencies.

“I have repeatedly stated that I have a completely open mind to either possibility and that if definitive evidence becomes available to validate or refute either theory, I will ready accept it,” Fauci said. He later invoked a fictional secret agent, decrying a conspiracy theory that “I was parachuting into the CIA like Jason Bourne and told the CIA that they should really not be talking about a lab leak.”

Republicans also have accused Fauci of lying to Congress in denying that his agency funded “gain of function” research – the practicing of enhancing a virus in a lab to study its potential real-world impact – at a lab in Wuhan.

NIH for years gave grants to a New York nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance that used some of the funds to work with a Chinese lab studying coronaviruses commonly carried by bats. Last month, the government suspended EcoHealth’s federal funding, citing its failure to properly monitor some of those experiments.

The definition of “gain of function” covers both general research and especially risky experiments to “enhance” the ability of potentially pandemic pathogens to spread or cause severe disease in humans. Fauci stressed he was using the risky experiment definition, saying “it would be molecularly impossible” for the bat viruses studied with EcoHealth’s funds to be turned into the virus that caused the pandemic.

In an exchange with Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., Fauci acknowledged that the lab leak is still an open question since it’s impossible to know if some other lab, not funded by NIH money, was doing risky research with coronaviruses.

Fauci did face a new set of questions about the credibility of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he led for 38 years. Last month, the House panel revealed emails from an NIAID colleague about ways to evade public records laws, including by not discussing controversial pandemic issues in government email.

Fauci denounced the actions of that colleague and insisted that “to the best of my knowledge I have never conducted official business via my personal email.”

The pandemic’s origins weren’t the only hot topic. The House panel also blasted some public health measures taken to slow spread of the virus before COVID-19 vaccines, spurred by NIAID research, helped allow a return to normalcy. Ordering people to stay 6 feet apart meant many businesses, schools and churches couldn’t stay open, and subcommittee chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, called it a “burdensome” and arbitrary rule, noting that in his prior closed-door testimony Fauci had acknowledged it wasn’t scientifically backed.

Fauci responded Monday that the 6-feet distancing wasn’t his guideline but one created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before scientists had learned that the new virus was airborne, not spread simply by droplets emitted a certain distance.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

United States News

This photo provided by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department shows a monolith near Gass Peak, Ne...

Associated Press

Gleaming monolith pops up in Nevada desert, the latest in a series of quickly vanishing structures

Jutting out of the rocks in a remote mountain range near Las Vegas, the monolith's reflective surface imitates the vast desert landscape surrounding the mountain peak where it has been erected.

2 hours ago

Associated Press

California man charged with killing gay college student takes the stand

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A California man charged with killing a gay University of Pennsylvania student in an alleged hate crime six years ago testified Tuesday about how the two men connected on social media and went to a park. It was the last time the victim was seen. Samuel Woodward, 26, took the […]

3 hours ago

President Joe Biden turns to the others on the dais after speaking during an event marking the 12th...

Associated Press

Half a million immigrants could eventually get US citizenship under a sweeping new plan from Biden

President Joe Biden ordered expansive election-year action Tuesday to offer potential citizenship to hundreds of thousands of immigrants without legal status in the U.S.

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Alaska did not provide accessible voting for those with disabilities, US Justice Department alleges

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The state of Alaska has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act for not providing accessible machines for in-person voting, the U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday. The state was also faulted for selecting inaccessible polling places and operating a state elections website that can’t be accessed by everyone. The department informed […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

New York’s ‘equal rights’ constitutional amendment restored to ballot by appeals court

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A proposed amendment to New York’s constitution barring discrimination based on “gender identity” and “pregnancy outcomes” was restored to the November election ballot Tuesday by a state appeals court. In a short decision, a panel of midlevel appellate judges overturned a May decision by an upstate judge to strike the proposed […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Texas megachurch pastor resigns after woman says he sexually abused her in the 1980s

DALLAS (AP) — The pastor of a Texas megachurch has resigned after a woman said he had sexually abused her on multiple occasions in the 1980s, beginning when she was 12. Gateway Church’s board of elders said in a statement Tuesday that they’d accepted the resignation of Robert Morris, the church’s senior pastor and founder. […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Fauci pushes back partisan attacks in fiery House hearing over COVID origins and controversies