Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan blasted infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci during a Thursday hearing for refusing to provide a specific answer on when America can begin a return to normalcy from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tense exchange came during a Capitol Hill hearing of the House Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee, also attended by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“When is the time?” asked Jordan, beginning his allotted five minutes to question the witnesses. “In your written statement, you say, ‘Now is not the time to pull back on masking, physical distancing and avoiding congregate settings.’
“When is the time? When do Americans get their freedom back?”
Fauci, who has largely served as the public face of the federal government’s pandemic response, started to provide an answer, but was quickly challenged by Jordan for not providing concrete, objective metrics.
“When we get the level of infection in this country low enough that it is not a really high –,” began Fauci, before Jordan cut him off.
“What is low enough? Give me a number,” the lawmaker interjected. “We had 15 days to slow the spread, turned into one year of lost liberty. What metrics, what measures, what has to happen before Americans get more freedoms?”
Fauci launched into a response stressing the importance of the ongoing national vaccination effort, but still stopped short of providing specific goals.
“My message, Congressman Jordan, is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can to get the level of infection in this country low that it is no longer a threat,” he said. “That is when, and I believe when that happens, you will see –“
Jordan, whose face mask frequently slipped off the tip of his nose during the exchange, again interrupted, voicing concerns for Americans’ freedoms.
“What determines when?” he asked. “What measure? Are we just going to continue this forever? … What standard, what objective outcome do we have to reach before Americans get their liberty and freedoms back?”
Fauci countered that the priority was to prevent as many additional pandemic deaths as possible so that Americans were actually around to enjoy those freedoms.
“You’re indicating ‘liberty and freedom.’ I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to the hospital,” he said.
Responded Jordan, “You don’t think Americans’ liberties have been threatened the last year, Dr. Fauci? They’ve been assaulted!”
Fauci fired back that he doesn’t “look at this as a liberty thing,” to which Jordan retorted, “Well, that’s obvious!”
“You think the Constitution is suspended during a virus, during a pandemic?” continued Jordan. “It’s certainly not! … Over the last year, Americans’ First Amendment rights have been completely attacked. Your right to go to church, your right to assemble, your right to petition your government, freedom of the press, freedom of speech have all been assaulted.”
The exchange between the two grew increasingly contentious.
“I think you’re making this a personal thing, and it isn’t,” said Fauci.
“It’s not a personal thing,” insisted Jordan.
“No, you are!” thundered Fauci. “That is exactly what you’re doing! … My recommendations are not a personal recommendation. It’s based on the CDC guidance, which is –“
Jordan again interjected to demand more specificity.
“And I’m asking the question, what measures have to be attained before Americans get their First Amendment liberties back?” he pressed.
Responded Fauci, “I just told you that!”
“No, you haven’t given anything specific,” said Jordan.
Fauci underscored the fatal force of the pandemic to illustrate what’s at stake.
“Right now we have about 60,000 infections a day, which is a very large risk for a surge,” he said. “We’re not talking about liberties. We’re talking about a pandemic that has killed 560,000 Americans.”
Jordan conceded the staggering death toll, but said it wasn’t the only concern.
“I understand how serious that is,” he said. “But I also understand it’s pretty serious when businesses have been shut down, people can’t go to church, people can’t assemble in their own homes, with their friends, with their families. … I also understand the First Amendment’s pretty darn important.”