Republican lawmakers have intensified their calls for Dr. Anthony Fauci to be fired after he defended the flow of $600,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, the lab at the heart of the controversy over the still-unexplained origins of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Fauci, director of the NIH, said in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on May 25 that it would’ve been “almost a dereliction of our duty” for the NIH not to collaborate with Chinese scientists to study how the virus might jump from animals to humans.
He insisted that the NIH didn’t fund so-called gain-of-function research, which he defined as “taking a virus that could infect humans and making it either more transmissible and/or pathogenic to humans,” at the Wuhan lab, claiming that the purpose of the $600,000 grant “was to study the animal-human interface, to do surveillance, and to determine if these bat viruses were even capable of transmitting infection to humans.”
Fauci was further pressed about the matter during a Senate hearing on May 26, with Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) questioning Fauci’s faith in the Wuhan lab’s scientists, whom Fauci had called “very respectable” just one day prior.
“How do you know they didn’t lie to you and use the money for gain-of-function research anyway?” Kennedy asked Fauci.
Fauci acknowledged he couldn’t be certain whether the money was used against its intended purpose.
“You never know,” he said.
Following Fauci’s remarks, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) called for his removal. In an appearance on “Fox and Friends” on May 27, Davidson accused Fauci of providing “cover for China” amid Beijing’s resistance to a transparent probe into the origins of the outbreak.
“People like Dr. Fauci have provided cover for them. The World Health Organization [is] providing cover for them. And very shockingly, many of our fellow countrymen have provided cover for China. They’d rather blame Republicans or Donald Trump. And that’s why political science should not be able to trump science. And Dr. Fauci has led that charge. He needs to be fired,” he said.
Davidson had earlier introduced the Fauci Incompetence Requires Early Dismissal (FIRED) Act, which sets a 12-year term limit for appointees serving in the capacity of the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a post Fauci has held since 1984.
Another Republican lawmaker who has called for Fauci’s dismissal, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), told “Fox and Friends” on May 27 that he believes Fauci “is either grossly incompetent or he’s been lying to the American people,” and that he “should be fired or resign.”
Reschenthaler argued that Fauci misled the public in the early stages of the pandemic with regard to mask guidance.
“Right now in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks,” Fauci said in March 2020.
He later clarified that he meant that masks should be prioritized for health workers, but Reschenthaler insisted that Fauci had lied.
“He blatantly lied to Congress about masks and the American people, saying they don’t help, and then he said, ‘Oh no, I was lying so we could hoard [personal protective equipment],'” Reschenthaler said.
The Pennsylvania Republican also objected to Fauci initially dismissing the theory that the CCP virus had originated in and escaped from the Wuhan lab.
In May 2020, Fauci largely dismissed the lab leak theory, telling National Geographic, “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.”
Recently, Fauci said he’s no longer certain that COVID-19 developed naturally, and called for an open investigation into the origins of the virus.
“I am not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened,” Fauci said at a fact-checking symposium on May 11.
“Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out. That’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.”
The Wuhan facility, home of China’s only P4 lab—a class of laboratory with the highest level of biosecurity where research on the world’s most dangerous diseases are conducted—has been in the spotlight amid concerns that the CCP virus may have originated there, rather than by making a natural jump from bats to humans.
Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee argued in a May 19 report (pdf) that it’s more likely the virus escaped from the lab.
The CCP has denied any link between the virus’s origin and the Wuhan lab and has pushed a “natural zoonotic” hypothesis—that the virus was transmitted to humans from an animal host. However, Beijing has so far failed to identify the original animal species that allegedly passed the virus on to humans.
A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) published in March stated that the CCP virus likely spread to people through an unknown animal, but WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the mission to study the origin of the virus didn’t adequately analyze other theories.
“As far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table … We have not yet found the source of the virus,” Ghebreyesus said.
On May 25, the United States urged the WHO to launch a fresh probe into the source of the CCP virus, highlighting the need for transparency.
“Phase 2 of the COVID origins study must be launched with terms of reference that are transparent, science-based, and give international experts the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in remarks to the 74th World Health Assembly.
More than a dozen nations, including the United States and the European Union, have raised concerns about the phase one WHO study into the origin of the virus, pointing to the report’s significant delay and China’s refusal to share crucial raw data.
President Joe Biden announced on May 26 that he has ordered a closer intelligence review of what he characterized as two equally plausible scenarios of the origins of the CCP virus—one natural, the other a lab leak.
Lily Zhou contributed to this report.