"You're making this a personal thing": Fauci and Jim Jordan clash over ongoing pandemic restrictions

“I don’t look at this as a liberty thing, Congressman Jordan,” says Fauci at one point of his pandemic calculations. “I look at it as a public-health thing.” That’s too glib. Right, he’s a scientist, not a policymaker, so his advice is driven by what’s best for people’s health. But it was only a few days ago that CDC chief Rochelle Walensky warned the governor of Michigan that it’s time to lock down. Fauci himself has expressed his misgivings many times when a governor somewhere has reopened before he thought it was prudent to do so. The two of them make policy recommendations regularly. If you’re going to do that, the psychological effect of restrictions on social activity should enter into your calculations.

And if he’s telling the truth, that he really doesn’t consider how lockdowns might affect people, that’s worse. Gretchen Whitmer and officials from both parties in Michigan have told the media recently that a new lockdown probably won’t work. Locals have pandemic fatigue and are tired of rules. They won’t obey. If Walensky and Fauci don’t grasp that, or if they do but don’t care, then they’re insisting upon prescribing a medicine which they have reason to know won’t cure Michigan’s illness. Which seems like bad doctor-ing.

I think it’d be more accurate if he said that liberty and limiting transmission are both important priorities that were destined to be in conflict until people started getting vaccinated. He knew that all sorts of non-scientific actors, starting with Trump, would push hard for liberty so he and the public-health bureaucracy pushed hard the other way. That was the only way they could convince a meaningful share of the public to keep taking precautions, by applying constant pressure to do so and never yielding. If they had, the “reopen now” faction would have steamrolled them. Fauci’s played mind games of that sort with the public since the start of the pandemic, notoriously with the “noble lie” he told about masks early on, but the hypercaution he and others have expressed lately about vaccinated people socializing is another glaring example. I don’t think he’s worried about immunized people going out to eat. He’s worried about unvaccinated people following their lead. Faced with a risky scenario like that in which liberty seems to have momentum, he’s pushing hard the other way again by insisting that it’s best if no one go out to eat right now.

Having said all that, I think the two exchanges featured below are a major missed opportunity for Jordan. They achieved his basic purpose, which was to create viral content of him yelling at one of MAGA’s least favorite public officials. (Fauci knows his game too, accusing Jordan of “ranting” and “making this a personal thing” at times.) But he could have done much more. He badgers Fauci repeatedly to give him a benchmark for when America might reopen more broadly, but the doctor’s answered that question many times and gave the same answer to Jordan today. He wants to see 10,000 cases per day or fewer before he’ll feel like things are safe enough for people to let down their guards. Jordan could have followed up on that with a hard question: What if we never drop below 10,000 per day? What if, despite best efforts to persuade people to get vaccinated, there are enough refuseniks to keep the pandemic going above 10K for the duration of 2021? Surely he’s not prepared to lock down for the rest of the year even if we make it to, say, 20,000 cases a day, right?

Unless I missed it, Jordan never asks that. Nor did he seize the opportunity to put Fauci on the spot about his absurd ambivalence regarding vaccinated people going out to eat. Just a few hours ago, the CDC published data showing just 5,800 infections among 66 million fully vaccinated people, a rate of 99.991 percent protection. Shouldn’t the public-health bureaucracy want to celebrate that fact and encourage the vaccinated to socialize in hopes that it’ll tempt fencesitters to get vaccinated too? And what about the developing fiasco of the “pause” on Johnson & Johnson, a decision Fauci has defended but which looks increasingly dismal insofar as it might turbo-charge vaccine hesitancy? Preventing a few dozen fatal blood clots at the costs of thousands of extra COVID deaths after jittery undecideds choose not to get vaccinated feels like a bad trade.

There’s none of that here, but he does get under Fauci’s skin. Which I suppose was the real goal.