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Liz Cheney defends Fauci as Fox News hosts and Rand Paul attack him

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), shown here in September, tweeted on Tuesday night that Anthony S. Fauci “is not a partisan. His only interest is saving lives.” (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) defended Anthony S. Fauci on Tuesday after he sparked a fresh wave of conservative criticism with a warning that reopening the country too soon amid the novel coronavirus pandemic could lead to avoidable “suffering and death.”

The blunt assessment, which came during a contentious Senate hearing, angered prominent figures on the right who have targeted Fauci as they push to lift restrictions nationwide.

“Dr. Fauci is one of the finest public servants we have ever had,” Cheney tweeted Tuesday night. “He is not a partisan. His only interest is saving lives."

“We need his expertise and his judgment to defeat this virus,” she continued.

Cheney’s support of the nation’s top infectious disease expert contrasted with the views of other conservatives, most recently Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and several big-name Fox News personalities, who publicly questioned Fauci’s credibility Tuesday following his testimony at the hearing on the U.S. coronavirus response.

“He is not, and no one is, the one person who should be in charge when it comes to making long-term recommendations. This guy, Fauci, may be even more off-base than your average epidemiologist,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Tuesday night. At one point, Carlson appeared to refer to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as “the chief buffoon.”

Fauci, one of the few officials willing to publicly counter President Trump’s misstatements about the virus, is no stranger to vitriol from the right. As The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reported in March, Fauci has been targeted in online smear campaigns, some of which cast him as an agent of the “deep state” and an adversary to Trump.

Fauci’s security was stepped up less than a week later in part due to threats against him, The Post reported. More recently, critics have used the hashtag “#FireFauci,” which appeared in a tweet retweeted by Trump last month. (The White House denied at the time that Trump was considering firing Fauci.)

Still, efforts to muzzle Fauci, the most outspoken member of the White House coronavirus task force, have had little impact. In recent interviews and cable news hits, for instance, Fauci has often expressed concern about states rushing to reopen, despite Trump’s support for doing so.

Fauci warns states rushing to reopen: ‘You’re making a really significant risk’

Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) touted Fauci’s testimony as one of the first opportunities for the doctor “to tell the American people the unvarnished truth without the president lurking over his shoulder."

“Dr. Fauci, let it rip,” Schumer said Monday.

And Fauci did — much to the consternation of conservatives.

Fauci warns Senate that reopening U.S. too quickly could lead to avoidable ‘suffering and death’

Aside from issuing his dire warning, Fauci also urged caution about welcoming students back to schools in the fall, which did not appear to sit well with Paul.

In a contentious exchange, the Kentucky senator, who recovered after contracting covid-19 earlier this year, told Fauci he was not the “end-all” for coronavirus decisions and argued schools could reopen in the fall because the virus seems to have less dangerous consequences for children.

The weird things Sen. Rand Paul said about reopening schools

“We ought to have a little bit of humility in our belief that we know what’s best for the economy,” said Paul, an ophthalmologist. “And as much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all. I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make a decision.”

In response, Fauci said he never made himself out to be “end-all and only voice in this,” and stressed that his advice is limited to matters of public health.

He then pushed back against Paul’s justification for reopening schools.

“We better be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects,” Fauci said, referring to cases of children with the coronavirus who also developed a perplexing inflammatory syndrome. He added, “I am very careful, and hopefully humble, in knowing that I don’t know everything about this disease.”

Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, warned about the unknown risks to children from the novel coronavirus on May 12. (Video: Reuters)

The attacks against Fauci continued into Tuesday night with three of Fox News’s most prominent hosts taking aim at him to varying degrees.

Carlson kicked off the Fauci bashing during his 8 p.m. show. Carlson questioned if Fauci is “right about the science,” and repeatedly cast doubt on the accuracy of his evaluations about whether the country is ready to reopen.

“Many of our leaders believe his every word is tantamount to law, and in effect it has been,” Carlson said as a chyron below him displayed a pointed question: “Has America put too much faith in just one man?”

“Just how wise is the man making these laws?” the host asked. “Is he rooted in science?”

In fact, Fauci has no authority to make laws or rules. His role is advisory, as demonstrated by Trump’s frequent disregard for Fauci’s assessments, most strikingly his advice about the timing of any relaxation of restrictions, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, designed to help limit the spread of the infections.

Later in the show, Carlson ridiculed statements Fauci has made about the outbreak over the past several months, focusing especially on Fauci saying in April that strangers who connect on dating apps could meet up in person if they are “willing to take a risk.” But in another interview that same month, Fauci commented that he didn’t think people “should ever shake hands ever again.”

“This is just buffoon-level stuff at that point,” Carlson said. “We’re not doing this to mock the guy. Anybody who talks as much as Anthony Fauci does on television … is apt to say some stupid things. The point is, is this the guy into whom you want to vest all of your trust? Is this the guy you want to chart the future of the country? Maybe not.”

The decisions being made now are “a very serious matter,” Carlson stressed, noting Fauci was not elected to his position.

“Yet, in the last four months, Fauci has become one of the most powerful people in the world,” Carlson said. “Some, particularly in our media and in our Democratic establishment, are clamoring to give Dr. Fauci even more power. Why?"

Carlson’s fellow Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham also went after Fauci, but voiced milder critiques.

Hannity told his viewers that Fauci “seems to favor what the Democrats want and that is massive restrictions with no end in sight.” But though Hannity said he agreed with Paul’s comments from the Senate hearing Tuesday, the host said Fauci is a “good man,” who has “dedicated his life … helping to save lives.”

“He deserves a lot of credit, but there is no secret either that Dr. Fauci, like so many others, have been wrong,” Hannity said, who also drew attention to past comments Fauci made that no longer align with what he is now saying about the virus.

Meanwhile, as Ingraham criticized Fauci’s stance on schools reopening, she echoed Carlson’s objection that Fauci is not an elected official.

“With all due respect to Dr. Fauci’s expertise, no one elected him to anything,” she said. “There are devastating consequences of keeping children away from school for extended periods of time, especially at-risk children.”

But amid Tuesday’s furor, Fauci was not completely without support from the right.

According to Politico, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) called Fauci “the gold standard,” adding that he will “continue to listen to him.”

Then there was Cheney, whose strongly worded defense was widely shared on social media Tuesday night. Cheney did not specify what prompted her to stand up for Fauci, but she and Paul have feuded publicly in the past.

“All Americans should be thanking him,” Cheney tweeted, referring to Fauci. “Every day.”