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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Fauci says he will step down in December to pursue ‘next chapter’

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to reporters at the White House on April 13, 2020, as President Donald Trump, second from right, and Vice President Mike Pence look on. Fauci, who has advised seven presidents and spent more than half a century at the National Institutes of Health, says he will leave government service by the end of 2022.

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this week that he intended to leave government service in December to “pursue the next chapter” of his career, and that he would step down as President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he has led for 38 years.

The announcement by Fauci, 81, was not entirely unexpected. He has hinted for some time that he was thinking of retiring, saying last month that he would “almost certainly” do so by 2025. In an interview Sunday evening, he said he was “not retiring in the classic sense” but would devote himself to traveling, writing and encouraging young people to enter government service.

“So long as I’m healthy, which I am, and I’m energetic, which I am, and I’m passionate, which I am, I want to do some things outside of the realm of the federal government,” said Fauci, adding that he wanted to use his experience and insight into public health and public service to “hopefully inspire the younger generation.”

In a statement Monday, Biden thanked Fauci, whom he called a “dedicated public servant and a steady hand with wisdom and insight.”

“Because of Dr. Fauci’s many contributions to public health, lives here in the United States and around the world have been saved,” the president said.

But some Republicans who consider Fauci a symbol of the COVID-19 restrictions that they have resisted vowed Monday to investigate him — even in retirement — if they win control of Congress in November. They said they would examine his response to the coronavirus pandemic, citing research that his institute funded at a virology institute in Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus emerged in late 2019.

“It’s good to know that with his retirement, Dr. Fauci will have ample time to appear before Congress and share under oath what he knew about the Wuhan lab, as well as the ever-changing guidance under his watch that resulted in wrongful mandates being imposed on Americans,” Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, said in a statement.

Few scientists have had as large or as long-lasting an impact on public policy. Fauci joined the National Institutes of Health in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson was president; he was appointed the director of its infectious disease branch in 1984, when the AIDS epidemic demanded attention.

Fauci has advised every president since Ronald Reagan — seven in all — and has been adept at navigating the nexus of science and politics. Among his proudest accomplishments, he said, was his work with President George W. Bush in developing a global program to combat HIV/AIDS, known as PEPFAR, which has saved an estimated 21 million lives. Bush — whose father, George Bush, called Fauci a hero during a 1988 presidential debate — awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.

But Fauci, who catapulted into the spotlight when the coronavirus began spreading in 2020, could not escape the politicization of the Trump era. President Donald Trump toyed openly with the idea of firing him (although that would have been difficult because Fauci is not a political appointee).

His response to the pandemic has drawn criticism, and he also conceded that it was not perfect. Early in the outbreak, he told Americans that there was no need to wear masks to protect against infection from the novel coronavirus; that turned out to be incorrect. He has said that he offered that advice because masks were in short supply at the time.

Fauci was a ubiquitous figure on television, which prompted his critics to accuse him of seeking fame or hogging the spotlight. He has said he did television interviews because his voice was needed to deliver public health messages in a time of crisis.

His high profile came at a cost. He and his family received death threats and required a security detail. In December, authorities in Iowa arrested a California man who had an assault rifle and ammunition, as well as a “hit list” that named Fauci and Biden, among others.

Fauci clashed bitterly with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who publicly accused him of lying about research his institute was funding in China. He also once muttered under his breath that Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., was “a moron” after the senator suggested that Fauci’s financial disclosure forms were not public.

Paul is among the Republicans who have said they would investigate Fauci if they win control of Congress in the fall. There had been speculation that he would retire to avoid that possibility.

Fauci dismissed that idea as “nonsense” and also said he had no intention of going to work for the pharmaceutical industry, as some of his critics have suggested. He said he considered stepping down after Trump left the White House but felt he could not refuse a request from Biden.

“So I stayed on for a year, thinking that at the end of the year, it would be the end of COVID, and as it turned out, you know, that’s not exactly what happened,” Fauci said. “And now it’s my second year here, and I just realized that there are things that I want to do.”

Fauci did not set a specific departure date (he will turn 82 on Dec. 24). He said he hoped that by staying through the fall and into early winter, the United States would “get closer to living with” the coronavirus “in a steady state,” although there are no guarantees.

“I’m not happy about the fact that we still have 400 deaths per day,” he said. “We need to do much better than that. So I don’t think I can say that I’m satisfied with where we are. But I hope that over the next couple of months, things will improve.”

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