Despite Dr. Anthony Fauci’s announcement Monday that he will step down from public service after a five-decade career in government, Republicans have promised to keep him in the spotlight by pledging to probe his role in the COVID-19 pandemic should they retake Congress after November’s midterms.
Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Monday that he will step down in December to pursue the “next chapter” of his career.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to have led the NIAID, an extraordinary institution, for so many years and through so many scientific and public health challenges,” said Fauci, who has led the department for 38 years.
A number of Republicans issued statements Monday threatening to investigate Dr. Fauci, who emerged as a top GOP target for criticism over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans have attempted to link Dr. Fauci to the origins of the coronavirus and criticized him amid shifting guidance from the government about mitigation strategies.
“Dr. Fauci lost the trust of the American people when his guidance unnecessarily kept schools closed and businesses shut while obscuring questions about his knowledge on the origins of COVID,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., wrote in a Twitter post.
“He owes the American people answers,” McCarthy – who has ambitions to serve as speaker should Republicans retake the House – continued, saying that a GOP “majority will hold him accountable.”
“Retirement can’t shield Dr. Fauci from congressional oversight,” Kentucky Rep. James Comer, who serves as the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, wrote in a statement. “The American people deserve transparency and accountability about how government officials used their taxpayer dollars, and Oversight Committee Republicans will deliver.”
“Fauci’s resignation will not prevent a full-throated investigation into the origins of the pandemic,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a frequent sparring partner of Fauci’s during Senate hearings, wrote in a Twitter post. “He will be asked to testify under oath regarding any discussions he participated in concerning the lab leak.”
But Dr. Fauci, for his part, said Tursday that he has “nothing to hide,” telling CNN that he welcomes oversight and that possible investigations had no bearing on his decision to step down.
“I have nothing to hide and I can defend everything I've done,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday, adding that his decision to step down dates back to his time under the previous administration, where he served as an adviser to former President Donald Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“My decisions of stepping down go back well over a year,” he explained. “I had decided I might want to step down at the end of the Trump administration, but when President Biden was elected, one of the first things he did was to ask me to join and be his chief medical adviser which I took as a great honor and I enthusiastically accepted.”
“I thought that was gonna last about a year,” he added. “That we would be having COVID behind us after a year. But obviously painfully so that's not the case.”
Dr. Fauci went on to say that he "certainly would consider" testifying after stepping down from his role in public service, adding: "I believe oversight is a very important part of government and I welcome it and it can be productive."
"But what has happened up until now is more of a character assassination than it is oversight," Fauci continued. "I'd be happy to cooperate, so long as we make it something that is a dignified oversight, which it should be, and not just bringing up ridiculous things and attacking my character. That's not oversight."
Dr. Fauci went on to say that he is "very disturbed" by the "intense" partisan divisiveness in the country and lamented the fact that a "common enemy" like a pandemic couldn't bring people together.
"If ever there was a situation where you wanted everyone to pull together and recognize we're dealing with common enemies, which are these pathogens that cause outbreaks and have already, for example with COVID, killed 1 million Americans, that is not time to have political ideation be separating us in what should be a common effort to end this and that's not the case," Fauci said.
"I hope things improve," he continued. "I'm fundamentally a cautious optimist and I often say I look for the fact that hopefully the better angels in all of us will ultimately emerge and we'll be a country that pulls together in the common enemy as opposed to one that seems to be fighting with each other."