Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the White House and leading spokesman for the government on the COVID-19 pandemic, says he will retire before the end of President Joe Biden's first term.
Fauci, 81, is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, a position he has held since 1984. In an interview published Monday, he told Politico he is planning to step down after more than five decades of public service under seven presidents.
He announced his plan to retire shortly after congressional Republicans, emboldened by widespread expectations they will reclaim a majority in the House of Representatives after the election in November, have declared their intention to investigate his actions at NIAID leading up to and during the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans want to determine what role Fauci played in downplaying the lab-leak origins theory of the virus and whether his agency within the National Institute of Health funded controversial gain-of-function research.
Fauci became the face of the federal government's COVID-19 response after President Donald Trump appointed him to the White House coronavirus task force in 2020. He has served on both Trump and Biden's pandemic response teams, making regular appearances on cable news, talk shows, and podcasts to promote the government's recommendations on mask wearing and vaccination.
In these media appearances, Fauci has been a proponent of politically divisive lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates. His critics have accused him of making contradictory statements — such as initially saying masks were useless before reversing his position — and shifting goal posts on when the country would reach herd immunity from COVID-19.
Fauci in turn has accused his critics of refusing to "follow the science." He has also strongly dismissed the hypothesis that COVID-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China — calling it a "conspiracy theory" — though international investigators have since determined the lab-leak theory is a plausible hypothesis for the origins of the coronavirus.
His reasons for downplaying the lab-leak theory would be the subject of congressional investigations should Republicans gain control of Congress. Emails unearthed by GOP lawmakers revealed that in early 2020, Fauci had conferred with scientists studying the emerging coronavirus who believed it was possible the virus was "engineered." Despite those private admissions, Fauci and other top health officials went on to publicly denounce the lab-leak theory.
Republicans have accused Fauci of a "cover up" — asserting that the NIAID director intentionally cast doubts on the lab-leak theory because his agency had funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology through awards to the non-profit group EcoHealth Alliance. EcoHealth has been accused of funding gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan lab — risky research that involves artificially manipulating pathogens — which some have suggested could be a possible origin for the virus that causes COVID-19.
Fauci told Politico he is preparing for inquiries from Republicans challenging his record but that they aren't a factor in his plans for retirement.
“They’re going to try and come after me, anyway. I mean, probably less so if I’m not in the job,” he said, speaking from his NIH office in Bethesda, Maryland. “I don’t make that a consideration in my career decision.”