In the initial statements, Fauci was upbeat about how much weve learned about the virus, the improved availability of masks, gloves, and other protective gear, and the trials underway with remdesivir and other potential therapies. Fauci also mentioned that one of the vaccines under examination was expected to enter a phrase three trial in July, and could be available around the end of yearhitting the low end of the 12 to 18 months estimate Fauci provided to Congress last January. Fauci stuck by this estimate several times in questioning, saying he was cautiously optimistic abouta vaccine in that time frame.
Redfield, as usual, displayed all the energy of a potato drowning in dopamine as he gave an opening statement saying that while some areas were a concern,overall case counts are going down. Which is not true.Giroir, who has the responsibility for testing within FEMA, has largelyprovided statistics, the most interesting of which was the suggestion that by the fall, the U. S. would be capable of performing 40-50 million tests a month, which is in the range of values many experts suggest is necessary. Those numbers would appear again in response to several questions.
Finally, Hahn spent more time than the others simply praising Trump, specifically talking up cuts in regulations to provide more flexibility. He also mentioned that the FDA was about to conduct an internal review of theirpolicies to make necessary changes to the organization which sounds a little disconcerting, especially with the White House talking about an audit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)to intentionally reduce reporting of COVID-19 deaths.
Over several rounds of questioning, Fauci insisted that the nation is currently a mixed bag with some areas following guidelines and doing well. Fauci singled out New York for praise in following the guidelines. The message from Faucibacked in several instances by comments from Redfield or Giroirplaced an emphasis on additional testing, isolation of positive individuals, and case tracing.
Despite Trumps statements, every one of these four emphasized the importance of increased testing and case tracing. There was a good deal of emphasis put on surveillance testing, which doesnt mean secret testing but more widespread testing to find community spread and catch asymptomatic cases. All four were asked about Trumps statement that he had tried to slow testing, and all four denied they had been pressured to do so.All of us continue to be committed to increasing timely testing, said Redfield.
Fauci also devoted a lot of his time to defending the idea of moving at warp speed, saying that the risks in the program are all financial and not safety and science. He repeatedly pressed the idea thateven though the money is being invested up front on the production end, that didnt mean that the regulatory agencies were going to give an unsafe or ineffective vaccine a pass.
Multiple Republicans focused on the traditional role of all Republicans under Donald Trump: The hunting of scapegoats. That included a number of Republicans mentioning the Chinese Communist Party atsome point in their discussion. However, even more Republicans focused on a different target: Democratic governors. In particular, there was a concerted effort to blame Democratic governors in New York and other states that were hit earlyfor the deaths in nursing homes. However, repeated efforts to try to recruit either Fauci or Redfield into these efforts failed. Multiple Republican representatives made a run at this, approaching it from different angles. All of them went away disappointed.
Meanwhile, Democrats worried about the racial inequalities ofoutcomes. On this topic,Fauci emphasized not just that Black communities have, on average, more of the co-morbidities associated with COVID-19, such as hypertension and diabetes, but also that these communities have more essential workerspeople who dont have the luxury ofstaying home and working in front of a computer screen. Asked if institutional racism played a role in the high rate of cases and deaths in the Black community, Fauci responded I cannot imagine that it has not.The answer, congressman, isyes.
Through the day, there were a handful of genuinely interesting questions, such as discussion aboutadjuvantsthat boostefficiency of vaccines, the status of testing on convalescent plasma, and concerns about the fading of antibody protection. Fauci provided some extended discussion of the last point, reminding everyone that we still dont understand which antibodies are important, how long they remain, or what level of antibodies is necessary for protection.
The most contentious point of the day was when West Virginia Republican David McKinley tried to enlist Fauci in attacks on the media,Democratic governors, and himself in order to excuse Trump. McKinley began by blasting the media, talking at length about unfair they were to Trump and in particular haranguing The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post. McKinley attempted to dismiss the importance of COVID-19 by saying that 700,000 have died from AIDSwithout mentioning that this has happened over a span of four decadesand pointed out that it took 10years to develop the flu vaccine without mentioning those 10years started in 1933.
Having established how great Trump is atsupporting vaccine development faster than during the Great Depression and losing only more Americans than those who have died of HIV in the last decade, McKinley then tried to enlist Fauci. But Faucis response was: Actually, thats an unfair question.Unhappy, McKinley returned to his attempt to get Fauci to punch himself in the face.
McKinley: Dr. Fauci, you said as lateand I’ve got a newspaper article hereyousaid as late as March 31 there was no consensus on wearing masks. And the president, as you know, relies on your expertise. Do you now regret not advising people more forcefully to wear masks earlier?
Fauci: Okay, we’re going to play that game. Let me explain to you what happened back then.
McKinley: It should be a yes or no.
Fauci: No, there’s more than a yes or no by the tone of your question. I don’t regret that, because let me explain to you what happened. At that time, there was a paucity of equipment that our health care providers needed; who put themselves daily in harm’s way in taking care of people who are ill. We did not want to divert masks and PPE away from them to be used by other people. Now that we have enough
(McKinley cuts him off).
McKinley then tried twiceto get Redfield to blame governors in states like Michigan, New York, New Jersey, and California for unnecessary deaths in nursing homes. The approach he tookin suggesting that those governors committed a gross mistake by returning patients who had recovered in hospitals to long-term facilitiesoverlooked the CDC guidance that said that was allowed. Though multiple Republicans would return to this point, which they obviously felt provided leverage against popular governors and lifted blame away from Trump,none scored anything like the comments they clearly wanted.
On the other hand, attempts to get Fauci or anyone else to address Trumps commentsfrom drinking bleach to not wearing masksalso generated very little. Both Fauci and Redfield were quick to state some form of follow the guidelines and wear a mask, but they would not directly disagree with anything from Trump. Fauci was also quick to try and dispel that idea that any vaccine produced would not be safe.
The closest that anyone came were when JerryMcNerney tried to askabout the World Health Organization (WHO)and got statements from both Fauci and Redfield that they still worked with the WHO every day, and that those interactions were valuable.There was also a point where Rep.Peter Welch asked anyone who agreed with a series of Trump statements, ranging from COVID-19 is under control to one day it will magically disappear, to raise their hands. There were no hands.
Overall, the answers that all four members of the panel gave were within a pretty narrow window in which they tried to avoid saying anything controversial. Hahn and Giroir were more defensive of their own programs and more protective of Trump. Fauci was more willing to be frank in his responses. Redfield was likely to employ bureaucratic doublespeak and refused to talk about any advice from Trumpincluding refusing to say when he last spoke to Trump. Both Fauci and Giroir stated that they last spoke to Trump over two weeks ago.
The moment between McKinley and Fauci was probably the days most rancorous, and while it may not have given the Republicans the moment they wanted, it also seemed to suggest that Fauci had been less than honest with the public out of his concernabout protecting PPE for healthcare workers.