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Sparring partners Anthony Fauci and Rand Paul threw down in the Senate again this week.
The Republican Senator and the federal government’s lead infectious disease expert clashed over emails from early in the pandemic warning of possible “gain of function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the creation of Covid-19.
Mr Paul asked Dr Fauci it was appropriate to use his $420,000 salary to attack scientists who disagreed with the science of Dr Fauci’s, who has become the public face of the federal government’s Covid response.
“In usual fashion, senator, you are distorting everything about me,” Dr Fauci said. “There you go again, you just do the same thing every hearing,” he added.
The latest in the long-running battle of one-upmanship provided more zingers between the two, with Dr Fauci increasingly frustrated over questions from some Republicans.
Here are five times the pair have clashed during the Covid-19 pandemic:
‘I have no responsibility for the current pandemic’
At the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in November 2020, Mr Paul confronted Dr Fauci about a letter from the National Institute of Health purported to contradict previous testimony that the agency never funded “gain of function” research in Wuhan.
The letter said that experiments in Wuhan funded by the NIH through grants to EcoHealth Alliance created viruses that made mice sicker than those infected with the original version.
“As sometimes occurs in science, this was an unexpected result of the research, as opposed to something that the researchers set out to do,” the letter said.
That distinction, according to the NIH, meant it did not fit the definition of gain of function research, which it rebranded to the newly coined term “research involving enhanced pathogens of pandemic potential (ePPP)”.
Mr Paul asked Dr Fauci if he would resign in light of the NIH letter, which was claimed to show he lied before Congress when claiming they never funded such research in China.
“You have said that I am unwilling to take any responsibility for the current pandemic. I have no responsibility for the current pandemic,” Dr Fauci responded.
“As usual, and I have a great deal of respect for this body of the Senate, and it makes me very uncomfortable to have to say something, but he is egregiously incorrect in what he says,” Dr Fauci continued.
Mr Paul fired back: “History will figure that out on its own.”
‘If anybody is lying here, senator, it’s you’
Dr Fauci officially submitted to the Senate record in July 2021 that Mr Paul does not, “quite frankly”, know what he’s talking about.
Mr Paul suggested Dr Fauci may want to retract his statement on 11 May that the NIH never funded gain of function research in Wuhan, “knowing it is a crime to lie to Congress”.
In response, Dr Fauci said he has “never lied” before Congress and that he does not retract the statement.
He snapped at Dr Fauci to “let me finish” his explanation of how his staff had determined the research being referenced did not fall under the definition of gain of function research.
“Senator Paul, you do not know what you’re talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially,” Dr Fauci said. “You do not know what you’re talking about.”
“If anybody is lying here, senator, it’s you,” he added.
‘You are entirely and completely incorrect’
Mr Paul directly accused the National Institute of Health of funding research at a lab in Wuhan that resulted in the increased transmissibility of viruses, despite a ban on the so-called gain of function research in the US since 2014.
“Can you imagine if a SARs virus that has been juiced up, and had viral proteins added to it, to the spike protein, if that were released accidentally?” Mr Paul asked.
Dr Fauci replied that Mr Paul is “entirely and completely incorrect” and the NIH has not ever funded research they define as “gain of function” a the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And also, “if it is, it is according to the guidelines and it is being conducted in North Carolina, not China”.
“I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done, and I’m fully in favour of any further investigation of what went on in China,” Dr Fauci said. “However, I will repeat again, the NIH and the NIAID categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.
‘Here we go again with the theatre’
The pair returned to jousting in March 2021 when Dr Fauci deflected claims his pandemic guidelines were political theatre by declaring that it was, actually, Mr Paul going again with the theatre.
Mr Paul asked Dr Fauci why it was still necessary to wear masks after getting the recently released vaccine, which at the time was claimed would prevent transmission of the virus.
“If we’re not spreading the infection, isn’t it just theatre? You have the vaccine and you’re wearing two masks, isn’t that theatre?” Mr Paul asked.
A visibly annoyed Dr Fauci responded, “Here we go again with the theatre. Let’s get down to the facts.”
Dr Fauci said the threat of new variants resistant to the vaccine was a “good reason for a mask”.
Mr Paul continued to interject, repeating: “You’ve been vaccinated and you parade around in two masks for show!”
‘You are not listening’
In September 2020, Dr Fauci lost his patience and told Mr Paul he was “not listening” during a Senate hearing on the US response to the pandemic.
Mr Paul jabbed at Dr Fauci by saying the Covid expert was a “big fan” of Andrew Cuomo who jumped up and down saying the former governor did a great job despite New York’s scandal-plagued pandemic response.
“You’ve misconstrued that, senator, and you’ve done that repeatedly in the past,” Dr Fauci said. “They got hit very badly and they made some mistakes.
He went on to say New York’s testing positivity rate was around 1 per cent due to the official guidelines of masks, social distancing and washing hands.
When Mr Paul suggested New York could have achieved herd immunity, a frustrated Dr Fauci said “this happens with Senator Rand all the time”.
“You are not listening to what the director of the CDC said that in New York it’s about 22 per cent. If you believe 22 per cent is herd immunity I believe you’re alone in that.”