GOP senators grill Fauci on Wuhan lab funding, origins of COVID-19

Republican senators grilled Dr. Anthony Fauci about grant funding provided to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of Covid-19 during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Wednesday — as pressure mounts for him to be fired over his shifting positions on the issues.

Fauci has come under fire from leading Republicans, who have blasted the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for his litany of shifting stances on how to combat the coronavirus, its origin and an investigation into the Wuhan Institute of Virology — with some calling for his resignation. 

During Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) raised questions about whether the funding provided to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was used for its intended purposes and not for gain of function research, which Fauci has previously described as “taking a virus that could infect humans and making it either more transmissible and/or pathogenic for humans.”

Fauci confirmed that $600,000 in grant funding to be used over the course of five years was provided to study whether bat coronaviruses could be transmitted to humans, adding that he believes the funding was properly used, but can’t 100 percent confirm it was utilized for its intended purpose. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci does not believe the funding was misused.
Stefani Reynolds/Pool/REUTERS

“You have no way of knowing whether they did or not, except you trust them. Is that right?” Kennedy asked, pressing on whether he could guarantee that the grantee has not lied to him.

Fauci asserted that he believes the funding was not misused after reviewing the research produced by the scientists abroad, but “cannot guarantee that a grantee has not lied to us because you never know.” 

“They’re very competent, trustworthy scientists, I’m not talking about anything else in China, I’m talking about the scientists that you would expect that they would abide by the conditions of the grant, which they’ve done for the years that we’ve had interactions,” he said. 

A security official moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit on Feb. 3, 2021.
A security official moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit on Feb. 3, 2021.
Ng Han Guan/AP

Kennedy went on to raise concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s level of influence over the World Health Organization, to which Fauci responded saying he has confidence in the WHO’s independence.

“My interaction with the who and for Dr. Tedros the Director General has been one thing that I do believe he’s a person of a high degree of integrity,” he said. 

Republicans have also been highly critical of Fauci following his recent remarks that it is possible Covid-19 could have originated out of a lab, after GOP lawmakers came under fire last year for repeatedly raising the possibility. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) questioned the timeline in which it would be determined the virus came from a lab if an intermediate host is not found, and who should be leading that investigation. 

Fauci said that it’s hard to provide a timeline since they still have not found the intermediate host for Ebola, which they are confident did not originate from a lab, adding that he would like the WHO continue its probe. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) questioned Fauci about the grant funding to the Wuhan lab.
Stefani Reynolds/Pool/AP

“[T]he WHO did what they’re referring to now as phase one of an investigation, which they felt was not completely adequate. As you know, you’ve heard me and Dr. Collins and others in the administration calling for a continuation of the investigation,” Fauci said. 

And Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) raised concerns about China’s “history of lab accident,” adding that the “outbreak happened in a city that happened to be the home, coincidentally of a lab which we know is involved in extensive research and what they do is they take this naturally occurring virus, and they manipulate it, and they change it to make it infectious to human.”

The Florida Republican questioned why Fauci previously tamped down speculation the virus could have been artificially manufactured. 

“I have always said that the high likelihood is that this is a natural occurrence. I didn’t dismiss anything I just said it’s a high likelihood that this is a natural occurrence, from the environment of an animal reservoir that we have not yet identified,” he said. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked Fauci why he had tamped down speculation the virus could have been artificially manufactured in the past.
Stefani Reynolds/Pool/REUTERS

“Well, I still maintain that but as I just mentioned to the response to other questions that since you don’t know 100 percent about that because no one knows, including me, 100 percent what the origin is is the reason why we’re in favor of further investigation.”

In May, 2020, Dr. Fauci said “the scientific evidence is very, very strongly leaning toward” the virus having evolved in nature, adding that he does not believe it came from a lab.

“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,” Fauci told National Geographic in an interview at the time.

He added that he doesn’t believe “an alternate theory — that someone found the coronavirus in the wild, brought it to a lab, and then it accidentally escaped.”

“Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species,” the doctor said at the time.

Graham said if it is found that the deadly virus did originate in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, he feels it is critical there be significant consequences. 

“I think we should send a clear signal to China, it seems to be a source of a lot of pandemics, that if this did occur in the lab, expect something to happen, because if we don’t, we’re just going to reinforce this in the future,” he said.  “And what that something is I’m open minded to, but I’m closed minded to the idea of doing nothing.”


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