President Joe Biden's top medical advisor—National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci—has been a prominent public face of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic that's killed more than 800 thousand Americans.
Though Fauci doesn't have the power to impose mask mandates or vaccine passports on any state, conservatives have painted him as an insidious authoritarian for conveying public health guidances against an ever-shifting pandemic landscape—guidances that are often at odds with the GOP's overwhelming dismissal of the virus' severity and embrace of vaccine skepticism.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is one of the chief promoters of this characterization of Fauci, whom he's repeatedly grilled and skewered in a number of Senate committee hearings. Paul has called Fauci a "petty tyrant" and even accused him of contributing to the deaths of millions of people, citing unverified claims that the National Institutes of Health funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
As a result of the sensational claims from Republicans like Senator Paul, Fauci and his family have been the subject of countless death threats and at least one foiled attempt on his life.
In a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Health Committee, Paul once again smeared Fauci without allowing him to answer the Senator's allegations. Committee Chair Patty Murray of Washington granted Fauci additional time to speak, where the Director proceeded to call Paul out for fundraising on Fauci's vilification and suggesting Paul's smears played a role in his harrassment.
"The last time we had a committee or the time before, he was accusing me of being responsible for the death of four to five million people, which is really irresponsible. ... It distracts from what we're all trying to do here today, is get our arms around the epidemic and the pandemic that we're dealing with, not something imaginary. Number two, what happens when he gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue, ... that kindles the crazies out there and I have threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me."
He went on to point out the attempt on his life:
"As some of you may know, just about three or four weeks ago on December 21, a person was arrested who was on their way from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. at a speed stop in Iowa. The police asked him where he was going, and he was going 'to Washington, D.C. to kill Dr. Fauci.' They found in his car an AR-15 and multiple magazines of ammunition, because he thinks that maybe I'm killing people."
Fauci concluded by brandishing a fundraising ad on Paul's website:
"Go to Rand Paul website and you see 'Fire Dr. Fauci' with a little box that says 'Contribute here,' you can do $5, $10, $20, $100. So you are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain."
At a later moment in the hearing, Paul said Fauci's remark was "insulting" and reminded the doctor that he was on the baseball field when Republican Congressman Steve Scalise was shot.
But it wasn't the Senator people sided with.
Paul later insisted that he never supported violence against Fauci, but it's unclear what he thought the consequences would be of broadcasting unproven claims that Fauci was directly responsible for the deaths of millions.
People weren't buying Paul's defense.
It's unlikely Fauci's rebuttal will convince Paul to recede.