Dr. Anthony Fauci was back on Capitol Hill this morning, appearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which meant one inevitable thing: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would pick a fight he'd inevitably lose.
Right on cue, that's what happened.
Paul grilled Fauci about an NIH funded study that he says qualifies as gain-of-function research, the process of altering a pathogen to make it more transmissible in order to better predict emerging diseases. Fauci previously denied in previous Senate testimony that the NIH has directly funded the research at a lab in Wuhan, China that has come under intense scrutiny as a possible source of the virus.
The Kentucky Republican, whose background as an ophthalmologist leads him to claim expertise on scientific matters, ultimately suggested Fauci lied under oath. The comments were not well received.
Fauci, who oversees several NIH research programs as director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, replied, "I have not lied before Congress.... If anyone is lying here senator, it is you."
Fauci added that the study Paul was referring to does not constitute gain-of-function research. "Sen. Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I would like to say that officially," the immunologist explained. For emphasis, he repeated, "You do not know what you are talking about."
If this sounds familiar, it's because this morning's back and forth was the latest in a series. Circling back to our earlier coverage, Rand Paul keeps doing this, apparently under the impression that there's some value to the pointless exercises.
Round 1: In May 2020, Paul lectured Fauci about "people on the other side who are saying there's not going to be a surge" in coronavirus cases, so "we can safely open the economy." The second of multiple infection spikes soon followed.
Round 2: In June 2020, Paul complained that Fauci's public-health assessments were downers --"All I hear is, 'We can't do this', 'We can't do that'" -- and the crisis would ease with more upbeat rhetoric. "We just need more optimism," the Republican declared.
Round 3: In September 2020, in a tense back and forth, Paul tried to convince Fauci that New York had already reached herd immunity, which was amazingly foolish, even for him.
Round 4: In March 2021, the senator complained bitterly about public health experts recommending mask-wearing, including for those who've already been infected, calling it "theater." Fauci responded by offering a lesson on variants and evidence.
Round 6 was this morning.
The overarching problem appears to be relatively straightforward: the former ophthalmologist genuinely seems to believe that he has unique and valuable insights, which frees him to reject the assessments of actual experts.
It was about a year ago when Rand Paul told reporters that COVID mitigation efforts in New York were not especially effective in saving lives -- "I think New York would have lost about the same amount of people whether they did anything or not," he said -- before arguing that the crisis has been "relatively benign" outside of "New England." (The senator isn't great at geography, either.)
In the months that followed, the virus claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Is it any wonder that Anthony Fauci seems exasperated with Rand Paul?