President Joe Biden says he isn’t bothered by Dr. Anthony Fauci‘s Republican critics who have called for the nation’s most prominent COVID-19 expert’s firing after a trove of his emails made headlines this week.
“I’m very confident in Dr. Fauci,” Biden told reporters on Friday, his first public defense of his chief medical adviser, who has come under renewed scrutiny this past week over his response to the coronavirus pandemic and its origins.
Questioned later in the day during a briefing with reporters, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there is no circumstance in which she could see Biden firing Fauci.
“Dr. Fauci is a renowned career civil servant. He’s overseen management of multiple global health crises, and attacks launched on him are certainly something we wouldn’t stand by,” she said.
Republican lawmakers have been combing over thousands of Fauci’s emails—first obtained by BuzzFeed and The Washington Post via requests through the Freedom of Information Act—for any missteps or inconsistencies from Biden’s medical adviser during the early months of the pandemic. In addition to serving a key role in the coronavirus response in the Donald Trump and Biden administrations, Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NAID) for nearly four decades.
During the height of the pandemic, polls consistently showed that the public viewed Fauci positively and trusted his guidance. He also won praise from many celebrities and made the rounds on late-night talk shows and other popular programs.
The coronavirus has killed nearly 600,000 people in the United States, but cases and deaths have been on the decline as more people get vaccinated.
The emails show Fauci saying in February that store-bought masks were ineffective in stopping the coronavirus—a position that was consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the time, before it later reversed that opinion. Many conservatives have been opposed to mask mandates that were instituted after the CDC update. The emails also show Fauci was informed that the virus could have originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, before he publicly acknowledged that possibility.
After the emails were released, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia who has become a lightning rod for controversy, introduced legislation meant to effectively fire Fauci by reducing his salary to zero dollars. The proposal, which currently has six co-sponsors, is unlikely to be heard in the Democrat-controlled House.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who is the ranking member on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent a letter to House Majority Whip James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, seeking another hearing with Fauci to discuss information contained in the emails.
“His emails debunk many Democrats‘ claims from the past year that he and other administration scientists were ‘muzzled’ by the Trump administration,” Scalise wrote. “More importantly, the emails contain new evidence regarding the origins of COVID-19, including the possibility it leaked from a U.S. taxpayer funded laboratory.”
The NIAID didn’t immediately respond to Newsweek‘s request for comment from Fauci.