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Dr. Anthony Fauci announced Monday that he will resign as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) after spending more than a half-century in government, prompting Republican detractors to question his timing following his perceived double-talk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In December, Fauci will also forfeit his roles as chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation and President Joe Biden‘s chief medical adviser, saying he wants “to pursue the next chapter of my career.” Republicans believe Fauci is leaving government due to the possibility that the GOP will take control of the House in November.
“Dr. Fauci is conveniently resigning from his position in December before House Republicans have an opportunity to hold him accountable for destroying our country over these past three years,” Republican Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona tweeted, adding that Fauci will be held accountable whether or not he remains in public office. “This guy is a coward.”
Fauci gained national attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, including acknowledging having to “stand up” to former President Donald Trump‘s COVID-related claims to benefit the public and “for the sake of preserving my own integrity.”
Emails from Fauci uncovered via the Freedom of Information Act showed that he said “the typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus,” even as mask mandates were commonplace nationwide for long periods of time.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has had multiple public squabbles with Fauci, pledged Monday to conduct “a full-throated investigation into the origins of the pandemic” regardless of Fauci’s impending departure.
“[Fauci] will be asked to testify under oath regarding any discussions he participated in concerning the lab leak,” Paul tweeted.
Mercedes Schlapp, former White House communications director under Trump, tweeted that it is “no coincidence” Fauci chose a December retirement date “right after Republicans will take back the House and immediately plan oversight into our pandemic response and his funding of gain of function research at the Wuhan Lab.”
Fauci has spent the past 38 years as NIAID director, first serving during President Ronald Reagan’s administration and ultimately seven presidents in total on infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, West Nile virus, the anthrax attacks, pandemic influenza, various bird influenza threats, Ebola and Zika.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to have led the NIAID, an extraordinary institution, for so many years and through so many scientific and public health challenges,” Fauci said in a statement released Monday, adding that he is not retiring but will continue to advance science and public health and mentor the next generation.
“I am very proud of our many accomplishments. I have worked with—and learned from—countless talented and dedicated people in my own laboratory, at NIAID, at NIH and beyond. To them I express my abiding respect and gratitude.”
In a statement, Biden said he first worked closely with Fauci as vice president on Zika and Ebola response, finding Fauci to be “a dedicated public servant, and a steady hand with wisdom and insight honed over decades at the forefront of some of our most dangerous and challenging public health crises.”
“When it came time to build a team to lead our COVID-19 response—in fact, in one of my first calls as President-elect—I immediately asked Dr. Fauci to extend his service as my chief medical advisor to deal with the COVID-19 crisis our nation faced,” the statement said.
“In that role, I’ve been able to call him at any hour of the day for his advice as we’ve tackled this once-in-a-generation pandemic. His commitment to the work is unwavering, and he does it with an unparalleled spirit, energy and scientific integrity.”
Newsweek reached out to the NIAID for further comment.