Dr. Anthony Fauci knocked down in rapid fire a number of President Donald Trump’s most dubious claims about the coronavirus during a House subcommittee hearing Friday.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, asked Fauci if children are ‘almost immune’ to the disease, if it would ‘magically disappear,’ if it was a ‘hoax,’ if hydroxychloroquine or injecting bleach were cures – and if signing a waiver at a political event to not sue the organizer prevented the spread of COVID-19.
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, answered that children ‘get infected.’
He said he believed the coronavirus would not disappear ‘because it’s such a highly transmissible virus.’ Fauci said it wasn’t a ‘hoax.’
Hydroxychloroquine, a drug Trump has pushed, has no ‘therapeutic efficacy,’ Fauci said. He answered ‘no’ when asked about injecting bleach.
‘Are you safe from the disease when you go to one of the aforementioned large assemblies, crowds, demonstrations without a mask on and not observing social distancing if you sign a waiver that you wo’nt sue the sponsor of the event,’ Raskin asked.
The Trump campaign put on rally ticket request forms language that would shield them from COVID-related lawsuits.
‘I’m not so sure those things are connected, but I will repeat what I said multiple times that being in a crowd, particularly without a mask, is a risk for acquisition and for transmission,’ Fauci said.
Earlier in the hearing Fauci had been hammered by Republican Rep. Jim Jordan over whether the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests pushed coronavirus numbers up.
‘But signing a waiver doesn’t confer any kind of immunity on you, from being infected by the disease?’ Raskin asked.
‘No of course not,’ Fauci said.
The most dramatic moments of the Friday morning hearing, which also featured testimony from Admiral Brett Giroir, the country’s testing czar, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, came courtesy of Republican firebrand Rep. Jim Jordan, who made ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests a central issue before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
Fauci refused to take the bait from Jordan, who asked him again and again if protests helped spread the virus – and if the government should limit them.
‘I don’t know how many times I can answer that, I’m not going to opine on limiting anything,’ said Fauci. ‘I’m not going to opine on limiting anything, I’m telling you what it is, the danger, and you can make your own conclusion about that. You should stay away from crowds no matter where the crowds are.’
Jordan complained that churches and businesses, like hair salons, were closed but Democrats thought protesting was fine.
‘You’ve advocated for certain businesses to be shut down. I’m just asking you on your position on the protests,’ Jordan said. ‘We actually know protests actually increase the spread of the virus you’ve said that.’
But Fauci said he didn’t say that.
‘I said crowds. I didn’t say specifically, I didn’t say protests or anything. I didn’t say that, you’re putting words in my mouth,’ Fauci said.
Fauci also explained to Jordan, ‘I’m not in a position to determine what the government can do in a forceful way.’
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the chair of the committee, tried to shut it down. And then asked Jordan a rhetorical question.
‘I’ll just ask the gentleman to just think about his question and put it in reference to crowds that gather at political meetings, at fundraisers, without masks at an oil rig in Texas, nobody wearing a mask, nobody social distancing, for a fundraiser, would that be problematic,’ Clyburn mused.
Several minutes later, Jordan tried to play gotcha again, but asking to include several news articles into the Congressional record, including one where Fauci said protests were a ‘perfect set-up’ for further COVID-19 spread.
Fauci said his message has been consistent.
‘Like I said, any crowd, any crowd, whether it’s a protest – but any crowd in which you have people close together, without masks is a risk and I’ll stick by that statement, it’s a public health statement, it’s not a judgement on why you’re there in the crowd, it’s a statement related to the fact that you’re in a crowd.’
Raskin pointed out later in the hearing that those worried about protesters spreading coronavirus should also be against federal authorities using pepper spray.
Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, brought up a specific crowd – Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa – when wishing condolences to former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s family.
Cain died Thursday at age 74 after a month-long struggle with COVID-19.
‘This virus is not Democrat or Republican,’ she told the committee.
‘I’m going to send my condolences to the family of Herman Cain who was a presidential candidate, who was a good friend of the president, who happened to have been at the rally in Tulsa June 20th, with no mask on, with a group of people around him with no masks on, and he’s dead. He died,’ she said.
An aide to Cain said that it’s unclear where he got exposed to the coronavirus, but was photographed seated, sans mask, near Oklahoma Gov. John Stitt, who also tested positive for COVID-19.
‘I’m told that he was in good health and that he, of course, contacted the virus as a result of his attendance without a mask there,’ Waters claimed. ‘So my condolences to the family.’
At the hearing, Fauci called the Henry Ford Health System study that has been promoted by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro ‘flawed.’
Fauci said that it was ‘confounded by a number of issues,’ including that patients who were given hydroxychloroquine were also taking corticosteroids, which in another study showed a ‘clear benefit’ against advanced COVID-19 disease.
‘So that study is a flawed study,’ Fauci said. ‘You can peer-review something that is a bad study,’ he added when Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, who was probing Fauci about the study, noted that the Henry Ford study was peer reviewed.
Fauci said medical researchers need to keep an open mind.
But among the ‘gold standard’ of studies: a randomized placebo-controlled trial, ‘none of them have shown any efficacy of hydroxychloroquine.’
‘I will state when I do see a randomized placebo-controlled trial that looks at an aspect of hydroxychloroquine. If that randomized placebo-controlled trial shows efficacy I would be the first one to admit it and promote it,’ Fauci said.
‘I just have to go with the data. I don’t have any horse in the game one way or the other, I just look at the data,’ the doctor added.
Navarro is the member of the administation who has publicly come out against Fauci’s expertise, writing an op-ed for USA Today, that the doctor has been ‘wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.’
Clyburn tore into the Trump administration’s record in his opening statement at the Friday hearing, accusing officials of playing politics when not enacting a national strategy for testing and tracing.
‘It was reported that back in April the administration considered implementing a national strategy to coordinate the distribution of test kits and contact tracing infrastructure, but it decided not to do so because at the time the virus was primarily spreading in blue states,’ Clyburn said.
He was referring to revelations reported by Vanity Fair that White House adviser Jared Kushner’s team had come up with a 50-state strategy, but didn’t implement it.
‘Most troubling at all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically,’ the story said.
The expert quoted in the Vanity Fair piece said, ‘The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.’
The Kushner tidbit wasn’t sussed out Friday because Giroir, the witness most able to answer questions about Trump’s son-in-law’s efforts, left the hearing early.
Fauci told lawmakers he didn’t know about Kushner’s efforts.
‘The United States stands out as among the worst of any country in the world,’ Clyburn also said at the top of the hearing.
Fauci, however, testified that he was doing everything he could do in his capacity of a government official to combat the virus.
Clyburn’s comments produced a reaction from Trump on Twitter Friday morning.
‘Somebody please tell Congressman Clyburn, who doesn’t have a clue, that the chart he put up indicating more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the World. If we had no testing, or bad testing, we would show very few CASES,’ Trump wrote.
‘Our massive testing capability, rather than being praised, is used by the Lamestream Media and their partner, the Do Nothing Radical Left Democrats, as a point of scorn. This testing, and what we have so quickly done, is used as a Fake News weapon. Sad!’ the president added.
Fauci later testified that coronavirus cases in the U.S. are actually on the rise, it’s just not the effect of broader testing.
‘If you do more testing you’re going to see more cases, but the increases that we’re seeing are real increasing in cases as also reflected by increasing in hospitalization and increasing in deaths,’ Fauci said.
In further response to Trump’s tweet, Fauci explained why the U.S.’s shutdowns weren’t as impactful as those in other countries.
‘I stand by my previous statement that the increase in cases was due to a number of factors, one of which was that in the attempt to reopen, that in some situations, states did not abide strictly by the guidelines that the taskforce and the White House had put out and others that even did abide by it, the people in the state actually were congregating in crowds and not wearing masks,’ Fauci said, when asked by Clyburn to address the president’s claims.
Fauci said that while other countries’ shutdowns actually shut down about 95 per cent of activity, the best the U.S. got to was about 50 per cent.
‘There was such a diversity of response in this country from different states that we really did not have a unified bringing everything down,’ he said.
In a back-and-forth with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the full Oversight Committee, Fauci explained why a coronavirus vaccine – and one that is developed quickly – is far more probable than a vaccine for HIV, which after decades hasn’t been developed.
‘It’s reality, congresswoman Maloney,’ Fauci said to the question of whether a coronavirus vaccine is a reality.
‘I think the difference between HIV and coronavirus is so different that I don’t think you can compare them,’ he explained. ‘Because the body does not make a very good immune response against HIV so it made vaccine development very difficult, whereas the body does make a robust immune response against coronavirus.’
Fauci also answered questions about distribution of a vaccine, explaining that it will probably be ‘phased in,’ but also testifying that a vaccine would likely be available to the masses throughout 2021.
He also addressed safety concerns, testifying that the government wasn’t rushing vaccine developments.
‘When a vaccine becomes available it’s important for their own health and the health of the country to take the vaccine,’ Fauci told the American people.
CDC Director Redfield testified that it’s a public health benefit to get children back into schools.
‘I don’t think I can emphasize it enough,’ he told lawmakers. ‘It is in the public health interest that these K through 12 students, to get these schools back open for face-to-face learning.’
Redfield pointed out that schools provide food for many kids and are able to flag abuse. He also talked about fearing the ‘isolation’ adolescent, which could lead to drug overdoses and suicides.
Fauci later said that the ‘default position despite the fact that we have to have flexibility’ would be to try ‘as best as we possibly can in the context of the safety of the children and the teachers’ to have schools open.
Like Redfield he mentioned the ‘downstream unintended consequences on families’ like phychological issues.
In his own opening statement, Fauci warned that there’s no end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic.
‘While it remains unclear how long the pandemic will last, COVID-19 activity will likely continue for some time,’ Fauci, along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Dr. Robert Redfield and Health and Human Services testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir say in prepared testimony for a special House panel investigating the pandemic.
At a time when early progress seems to have been lost and uncertainty clouds the nation’s path forward, Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, is calling on lawmakers – and all other Americans – to go back to public health basics such as social distancing and wearing masks.
Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, was testifying on Friday weeks after President Donald Trump’s administration first refused to let him address the panel.
Fauci’s testimony comes at the end of a week when the pandemic’s tragic toll on the country has become far clearer.
The United States on Wednesday experienced its 150,000th death from the disease — more than any other country — and data on Thursday showing a deep economic plunge.
Democrats said the Trump administration initially prevented Fauci from testifying to the panel by saying he was unavailable for the entire month of July and relented only after Clyburn wrote to Vice President Mike Pence.
A veteran of six Republican and Democratic administrations, Fauci has become the most familiar face of the administration’s coronavirus task force.
This week, Trump, who has often bristled against scientists’ advice on responding to the pandemic, bemoaned the degree to which Fauci is admired, saying ‘nobody likes me. It can only be my personality.’
The panel, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, is divided about how to reopen schools and businesses, mirroring divisions among Americans.
A rebound of cases across the South and the West has dashed hopes for a quick return to normal life.
Problems with the availability and timeliness of testing continue to be reported. And the race for a vaccine, though progressing rapidly, has yet to deliver a breakthrough.
Fauci’s public message in recent days has been that Americans can’t afford a devil-may-care attitude toward COVID-19 and need to double down on basic measures such as wearing masks in public, keeping their distance from others and avoiding crowds and indoor spaces such as bars.
That’s echoed by Redfield and Giroir, though they are far less prominent.
Fauci’s dogged persistence has drawn the ire of some of President Donald Trump’s supporters and prompted a new round of calls for his firing. But the veteran of battles against AIDS and Ebola has stuck to his message, while carefully avoiding open confrontations with the Trump White House.
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier this week, Fauci said he was ‘disturbed’ by the flat-out opposition in parts of the country to wearing masks as a public health protective measure.
‘There are certain fundamentals,’ he said, ‘the staples of what you need to do … one is universal wearing of masks.’
Public health experts say masks help prevent an infected person who has yet to develop symptoms from passing the virus to others. For mask wearers, there’s also some evidence that they can offer a degree of protection from an infected person nearby.
Fauci said in his AP interview that he’s concerned because the U.S. has not followed the track of Asian and European nations also hit hard by the coronavirus.
Other countries that shut down their economies knocked back uncontrolled spread and settled into a pattern of relatively few new cases, although they continued to experience local outbreaks.
The U.S. also knocked back the initial spread, but it never got the background level of new cases quite as low. And the resurgence of COVID-19 in the Sunbelt in recent weeks has driven the number of new daily cases back up into the 60,000-70,000 range.
It coincided with economic reopening and a return to social gatherings, particularly among younger adults. Growing numbers of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths have followed as grim consequences.
Nearly 4.5 million Americans have been been infected since the start of the pandemic, and more than 150,000 have died, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Fauci said there’s evidence the surge across the South may be peaking, but upticks in the Midwest are now a concern.
‘They’ve really got to jump all over that because if they don´t then you might see the surge we saw in some of the Southern states,’ he told the AP.
Though Fauci gets push-back from White House officials, other medical experts in the administration are on the same page when it comes to the public health message.
Giroir, the testing czar, told reporters Thursday: ‘I think it’s very important to make sure that we all spread the public health message that we can control all the outbreaks occurring right now.’
He said controlling the outbreaks will require people to wear masks, avoid crowded indoor spaces and wash their hands frequently.