Josh Hawley wants Anthony Fauci out, but he knows who really fumbled the pandemic

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Josh Hawley is calling for the head of the man he claims is responsible for the United States’ tragically inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Missouri’s junior senator joined the chorus of GOP voices insisting that Dr. Anthony Fauci must step down as director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “The time has come for Fauci to resign and for a full congressional investigation into the origins of #COVID19 — and into any and all efforts to prevent a full accounting,” he tweeted.

The anti-Fauci crusade is coming to a crescendo in the conservative alternative media ecosystem. The doctor’s fiercest congressional adversary, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, tweeted “#firefauci” last week after BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post published more than 3,200 pages of emails Fauci sent and received about the government’s coronavirus response. Proof, said his critics, that he misled the American people about the origins of COVID-19.

Sifting through the sometimes heavily redacted messages, it’s striking how informal and cordial Fauci is as he replies to members of the public who somehow tracked down his address. He answers questions about the virus in smokers and advises them about travel, always signing off with a simple “Tony.”

Most of the emails are utterly mundane interactions with colleagues: talk about convening groups to coordinate research efforts, sharing news stories tracking the virus’s spread around the world, strategizing about how best to get the word out about what they’re learning.

As for the grand verification of a conspiracy that his GOP critics are looking for — a byzantine tale in which he misdirected U.S. government funds to a lab in Wuhan, China, that weaponized a bat coronavirus that then accidentally escaped the scientists’ control in a freak accident? No such thing. As fierce Fauci disparager Michael Brendan Dougherty conceded in the National Review, there’s absolutely “no smoking-gun evidence of wrongdoing” in the emails.

The left also lobbed potshots at Fauci throughout much of 2020, urging him to be a more strident critic of Donald Trump’s tragically dismissive response to the virus.

When the president of the United States humiliated the nation by absurdly rambling about injecting disinfectant and shining light into people’s bodies or promoted useless off-label drugs, the scientist leading the nation’s pandemic fight should have spoken up instead of just sighing or doing a silent facepalm.

Of course, we wish Fauci had urged Americans to mask up earlier, too. But like health officials around the globe, he was learning about a novel health threat in real time. And while we must investigate the origins of the outbreak, the lab-leak theory remains a tremendous long shot.

Not that any of this matters to Hawley, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and their fellow Fauci hawks. Taking a cue from former Attorney General Bill Barr’s Mueller report playbook, they’re kicking up dust about what they wish the email trove said, knowing most people have neither the time nor the inclination to plow through the messages on their own.

The attacks don’t even have to make sense, because this was never really about Anthony Fauci. At 80, he’s been director of the NIAID since the middle of the Reagan administration. He’s served presidents Republican and Democratic alike, and George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He’s enjoyed consistent bipartisan praise throughout his career.

For Trump acolytes, Fauci is a proxy for all of those who took the threat of the pandemic seriously from the beginning. Trump, too, knew early on that the virus was airborne and deadly, but chose to downplay it in hopes it wouldn’t derail his reelection bid. If he’d urged his base to be hypervigilant about masks and social distancing, the worst of the economic and social havoc caused by the lockdowns might very well have been averted. We could be in a more dramatic recovery right now — and a second Trump term.

And it’s only in Trump’s defense that Hawley and others are anti-Fauci.

Josh Hawley is an intelligent man who may or may not have been wincing inside every time Trump tried to bluff and bluster his way through a question about the pandemic that he couldn’t answer. But Fauci’s humility and competence are a constant reminder of Trump’s many COVID-19 failures.

Hawley had the chance — twice — to help get rid of the person who led the shambolic pandemic response that left America’s 4% of the world’s population with more than 16% of its total deaths. He wouldn’t, of course, but voters did. They already fired the man who really let the nation down.

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