Opinion: GOP offers no retirement party for Fauci

This week, a number of Republicans in Congress expressed outrage over a simple retirement announcement.

Dr. Anthony Fauci — the government’s top infectious disease expert for the past five decades — said it was time for him “to pursue the next chapter of my career.”

Since the Reagan administration, Fauci was the voice of reason on public health matters starting with the AIDS crisis. He served presidents of both parties while dealing with SARS, Ebola, bird flu, anthrax and much more.

But for many supporters of former President Donald Trump, the 81-year-old Fauci was a villain because he differed with Trump on how best to deal with the coronavirus.

And when his retirement plans became public, GOP lawmakers didn’t offer Fauci a gold watch — instead, they exploded with anger.

“Retirement won’t save Dr. Fauci from congressional oversight,” thundered U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, as Republicans vowed investigative hearings, and demanded that Fauci preserve all of his text messages and emails — like he was under a criminal investigation.

“After wrongfully shutting down our businesses, schools, churches and freedoms, Fauci really thinks he can retire and disappear with no accountability?” said U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro.

One GOP senator even demanded that the feds preserve any “burner phones” used by Fauci and other officials at the National Institutes of Health.

That’s a common theme in some of the wilder conservative conspiracy theories spun about Fauci, who had to be given personal security because of all the death threats lodged against him.

It’s not like Fauci has been avoiding Congress. He has testified repeatedly at hearings on the pandemic, often engaging in verbal jousting matches about the origins of COVID with GOP U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

So, Fauci wasn’t worried about a return visit.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said.

While Republicans say Fauci was the mastermind of COVID restrictions, those complaints conveniently sidestep how many GOP officials (and voters) downplayed or ignored Fauci’s advice on masks and family gatherings.

Just witness Gov. Brian Kemp — who took flak from both Trump and Fauci, for trying to open up Georgia businesses too soon.

“Fauci, Stacey Abrams and the media, they all came after us,” Kemp said in a campaign ad from earlier this year.

134 years ago this week, in 1888, Congress was debating how best to deal with a yellow fever outbreak in Jacksonville, Florida, as citizens of Savannah worried they might be next.

Should the feds lead the response? Or was it better handled by the states?

That’s basically the debate we are still having on the coronavirus.

And it will likely continue long after Dr. Fauci’s retirement.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com