The White House defended Anthony Fauci Monday from what it described as “personal attacks” from Elon Musk and others on Twitter, calling them “disgusting,” “divorced from reality,” and “incredibly dangerous.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked both about the criticisms of Fauci, a top healthcare adviser and immunologist who is retiring from the federal government at the end of the year, and how her and President Joe Biden’s “view of Twitter as a sort of public form” might be “evolving.”
“So look, we’ve been very clear about this, these attacks, these personal attacks that we’ve been seeing are dangerous — on Dr. Fauci and other public health officials as well — they are disgusting, and they are divorced from reality, and we continue to call that out and be very clear about that and, again, these are incredibly dangerous, these personal attacks that we’re seeing,” Jean-Pierre replied.
“Dr. Fauci has served under seven Republican and Democratic presidents, we cannot forget that,” she continued. “He has given his almost entire career to civil service as a public servant.”
Fauci has been director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, when Ronald Reagan was president. But he became a household name as the public face of the federal COVID-19 response under former President Donald Trump.
As Fauci and Trump began to clash over how to handle the pandemic, the bureaucrat and infectious disease expert became a liberal icon and conservative bête noire.
Fauci publicly disavowed some of Trump’s comments about the virus and proper treatments, calling them unsupported by science. “I felt compelled to have to correct that,” he later said. “Now, the best way to correct it would be behind-the-scenes, to talk to him and talk to his staff. But when you’re standing there on the podium in front of an international audience at a press conference, sometimes you have to just step up and say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that’s not the case.”
A candidate for reelection at the time, Trump began to chafe at the economic disruption caused by the business closures Fauci recommended as a virus mitigation strategy.
Conservatives and others have increasingly questioned whether locking down portions of the economy and closing schools was worth the public health benefit. The consistency of his public statements also came under scrutiny, as did his role in gain of function research and inquiries into the origins of the virus.
When Biden took office, Fauci told reporters he was finally free to speak about science without fear of political pressure. But critics have argued there was a heavy political component to Fauci’s scientific pronouncements after almost four decades of navigating the federal government.
Jean-Pierre hailed Fauci’s work on infectious diseases like HIV and COVID-19 as “saving countless lives.” She said it was “unfortunate” that not everyone recognized his dedication to public health and “exceptional talent.”
Biden’s press secretary spoke as the White House has come under a microscope for its influence over social media companies like Twitter on misinformation on issues including, but not limited to, the pandemic.
Fauci is also likely to keep being grilled by congressional Republicans, who will assume the House majority in January, after his departure from government.