Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) listens to testimony before the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing, Tuesday in Washington. (Toni L. Sandys/Associated Press )
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, once a practicing ophthalmologist, is at it again.
In a Senate hearing Tuesday, he faced down Anthony Fauci, immunologist and leader in President Trump’s coronavirus task force, on topics far from his specialty. In measured, professorial speech — a far cry from Trump’s subliterate yawps — Paul, who has boasted that he likes spreading misinformation, was disseminating the kind of lies that get people killed.
He took on Fauci with bothsides-ism, pretending there’s a world of public-health experts who disagree with Fauci’s warning against recklessly reopening the economy.
This just isn’t true. No public-health conflict exists.
That hasn’t, of course, stopped Trump from siding with Paul, or is it vice versa? On Wednesday evening, Trump condemned as “not acceptable” Fauci’s recommendation that schools pay attention to epidemiological data if they’re determined to open in the fall.
Not acceptable? What’s acceptable to a know-nothing like Trump is not generally considered a useful metric for evaluating scientific recommendations.
In 2014, Dr. Paul performed a similar stunt with Ebola. In those days, he cautioned against the government underestimating the dangers of an outbreak in the U.S.. Talking to far-right pundit Laura Ingraham, Paul intoned, “This could get beyond our control” and blamed the Obama administration for “political correctness” in showing concern for the people of West Africa.
To Paul, carefully monitoring people in the U.S. who’d been exposed while sending American health workers and military to help the afflicted in Africa meant that Obama’s government was not making “sound, rational, scientific decisions.”
Fauci, then as now the country’s ranking infectious disease expert, studied the biology of Ebola. He and his White House bosses made the sound, rational, scientific decision that an emphatic effort to contain the virus where it originated would help make an outbreak in the U.S. “extremely unlikely.” Sure enough, there was no American outbreak — and now an Ebola vaccine exists.
Fauci was right. Paul was wrong. If saving lives is the goal, baseline concern for the human species works better than partisanship and xenophobia.
On Tuesday, from his bookish home office, Fauci — self-isolating after being exposed to the virus at the White House — told Congress that imprudent reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic could cause “needless suffering and death.”
Paul, in the Senate chambers for the hearing, was ostentatiously unmasked. He tested positive for COVID-19 in March and now claims — absent conclusive evidence — that he’s immune to it. (Flashback: While Paul was waiting for coronavirus test results, he not only didn’t self-isolate, he persisted in going to the Senate gym, swimming in its pool and dining daily with colleagues.
As Fauci delivered his warning to the Senate, Paul grew tetchy. Republicans like Paul increasingly respond to “public health” concerns as nothing but partisan cruelties, devised to crush the economy and the chances of reelection for Trump and his crowd.
The fatality rate for coronavirus among people under 45 isn’t that bad, Paul said. The pandemic, he claimed preposterously, had hardly touched regions of the U.S. “outside New England.”
He went on: “As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all. I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make a decision.”
Like right-wing types around the world, Paul praised Sweden’s approach to the pandemic, which he misrepresented as both laissez-faire and entirely effective.
Sweden has, indeed, as Paul said, kept schools open for students under 16. But it has also implemented social-distancing measures and banned group gatherings larger than 50 people. As for how effective the country’s approach has been: The death rate per million citizens there is higher in Sweden than the rate in the U.S. Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter, Sweden’s ambassador to the U.S., further says the country has “failed” the elderly.)
“There are people on the other side saying there’s not going to be [a reopening] surge,” Paul concluded in his reproof to Fauci. Of course, he didn’t name anyone from that side. No doubt there are some “very fine people” there.
Paul is one of those figures in public life who is wrong, wrong and wrong again — and somehow is never called to account. He does have a perennial cheerleader, though.
After Paul’s put-down of Fauci on Tuesday, Ingraham, Paul’s buddy from the Ebola-misinformation days, tweeted, “Rand Paul saves the day! Calls out the ‘experts’ and says you are not the ‘end all’ to make all decisions. GAME, SET, MATCH.”
It wasn’t clear what match she thought Paul had won. But if Paul’s track record is any guide, it isn’t one for truth, or the American people.