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Republican rage directed at Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser on the coronavirus pandemic to Presidents Trump and Biden, seemed to reach new heights over the weekend, with former Trump administration trade adviser Peter Navarro claiming the renowned physician and scientist has likely "killed millions of Americans."
"For whatever reasons, Fauci wanted to weaponize that virus, and he is the father of it. He has killed millions of Americans if that thing came from the lab. Now it's 99.999 percent sure it did," Navarro told former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon regarding an unproven theory that the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, that had received funds from the National Institutes of Health, where Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
For the better part of the past year, every time Fauci has spoken on the pandemic, some Republicans have taken to social media to decry him. On Sunday, his appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" sparked just such a reaction. Asked if Americans might need to wear masks seasonally to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19, Fauci responded, "You know, that's quite possible."
Kelli Ward, chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, quickly fired off a response to that suggestion.
The escalation of Navarro's rhetoric against Fauci has been especially notable. In a March interview with Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo, Navarro seized on the unproven theory that the coronavirus had originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
"This is the building that Tony Fauci built," Navarro told Bartiromo. "He took American taxpayer money and funneled it, laundered it through NIH, and gave to this lab so it could conduct the kind of research that led basically to the virus, if Bob Redfield [former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is right."
Navarro, whose antipathy for Fauci is well documented, was referring to $600,000 in U.S. funding that the Wuhan Institute of Virology received between 2014 and 2019 to study coronaviruses originating in bats. The National Institutes of Health awarded the nonprofit group EcoHealth Alliance a $3.4 million grant in 2014. Of that money, $600,000 went to the Wuhan lab.
A March report by the World Health Organization found the theory that the coronavirus had been leaked from the Wuhan lab to be the least convincing for the origin of the pandemic, and that a much more likely explanation was a naturally occurring jump from animals to humans. The report, however, has failed to satisfy critics of Fauci and the Chinese government who believe, without evidence, that a plot is afoot to hide the true origins of the virus.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., said the problem with Fauci's Sunday "Meet the Press" interview was that the doctor wasn't asked about Navarro's theory on the origin of the coronavirus.
For Fauci, a man who has dedicated his career to stopping the spread of infectious diseases, the accusations that he is somehow behind the emergence of the virus amount to a case of blaming the messenger.
"It's a little bit bizarre, I would say. ... Peter Navarro saying I created the virus?" Fauci said in an interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto. "Isn't that weird? Come on."
From the early days of the pandemic, Republican criticism of Fauci has been relentless, a fact that stems from his sometimes public disagreements with Trump's false statements downplaying the threat of the virus. It was Fauci, after all, who was telling Americans to stay home, wear masks and keep businesses shuttered, while Trump advised the opposite.
The partisan dynamic has continued to play out when it comes to vaccination. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released earlier this month found that while 73 percent of Democrats said they've already been vaccinated and an additional 7 percent planned to get a shot as soon as possible, just 56 percent of Republicans said they had been vaccinated, with another 4 percent indicating they would soon.
Fauci's public clashes with Republican lawmakers have played out against this backdrop. During a Senate hearing in March, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took Fauci to task over the CDC's recommendations that people continue to wear masks after being vaccinated so as to protect against exposure to COVID-19 variants.
"You're basing policy based on conjecture," Paul said.
"It isn't based on conjecture," Fauci responded.
"You want people to wear a mask for another couple of years," Paul continued. "You've been vaccinated and you parade around in two masks for show. You can't get it again, there's almost no, there's virtually zero percent chance you're going to get it, and you're telling people who have the vaccine, who have immunity, you're defying everything we know about immunity by telling people to wear a mask who've been vaccinated."
Fauci, whom Paul repeatedly interrupted, stood by his assessment that wearing a mask even after being vaccinated would help ensure against reinfection from a variant of COVID-19. "Let me just say for the record that masks are not theater. Masks are protective," Fauci responded.
Last month, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, took aim at Fauci for essentially depriving Americans of liberty.
"We had 15 days to slow the spread turn into a year of lost liberty," Jordan said while questioning Fauci during a House Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee hearing. "What metrics — what measures — what has to happen before Americans get more freedoms?"
"You're indicating liberty and freedom," Fauci responded. "I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to the hospital."
"Your right to go to church, your right to assemble, your right to petition your government, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, [has] all been assaulted," Jordan continued.
"I think you're making this a personal thing, and it isn't," Fauci replied.
As he told Cavuto in April, Fauci has become somewhat resigned to the role of a fall guy of critics of government coronavirus policies.
"You know, Neil, I've been a symbol to them of what they don't like about anything that has to do with things that are contrary to them," he said.
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