Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday the threat of GOP probes into his performance during the COVID-19 crisis did not factor into his decision to step down from the National Institutes of Health at the end of the year.
“None at all, not even a slight amount,” Dr. Fauci told CNN. “I have nothing to hide and I could defend everything I’ve done. So that doesn’t faze me or bother me. My decisions of stepping down go back well over a year.”
Dr. Fauci said Monday he will leave the government in December but won’t retire from working life completely. He plans to use his experience in some capacity, hinting he wants to encourage young people to enter public service.
While President Biden and others hailed Dr. Fauci for his 38 years as the chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, senior Republicans said they plan to call Dr. Fauci before Congress if they retake the gavels after the midterm elections.
Republicans say Dr. Fauci was too eager to promote social restrictions as a form of mitigation against the coronavirus; erred in saying masks weren’t needed in the early days of the pandemic; and didn’t keep a close enough watch on U.S. grant funding at a virology institute in Wuhan, China — the city where the pandemic began.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and possible 2024 presidential contender, was particularly critical, saying mask policies supported by Dr. Fauci were too burdensome for school children and that recommended restrictions destroyed businesses.
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“I think he’s done a lot of damage,” Mr. DeSantis said on “Fox & Friends.” “I think he should have been gone long ago.”
House Minority Leader Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, said that by stepping down, Dr. Fauci would have plenty of time to appear before Congress next year.
Dr. Fauci said he would be willing to appear on Capitol Hill but only for serious inquiries. Earlier in the pandemic, Dr. Fauci said GOP attacks on him seemed geared at fundraising, instead of serious oversight, and that personal attacks on him led to death threats.
“You’ve got to remember, I believe oversight is a very important part of government structure and I welcome it and can be productive,” Dr. Fauci said. “But what has happened up to now is more of a character assassination than it is oversight. So sure, 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,” he said. “That’s not oversight.”