Senators Rand Paul and Roger Marshall invent conspiracies to smear Dr. Fauci

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Antisemitism envoy

President Joe Biden’s first year in office has seen the lowest confirmation rate of nominees to key posts in recent memory, according to a report from the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition. Despite nominating approximately the same number of people for presidentially appointed Senate-confirmed positions as George W. Bush and Barack Obama, only 41% have been confirmed by the Senate. This compares to 57% of Trump’s nominees, 69% of Obama nominees, and 75% of G.W. Bush nominees.

The declining success rate of presidential nominees in part reflects a more partisan Senate environment. However, it is important to note that many of Trump’s nominees were rejected due to a lack of qualifications and/or controversial views. Even with a 50-vote threshold to confirm judicial nominees and a Republican majority, 15 judges nominated by Trump were withdrawn due to a lack of support in the Senate.

The backlog of Biden nominees has been engineered by Republican senators, who for reasons varying from personal grudges to policy disagreements have stymied confirmations every step of the way.

“The truth is that some Republicans’ unprecedented obstructionism is straining the system to the breaking point,” Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Senate floor last month, adding that the situation was forcing the president to operate without critical national security officials in place, “leaving our nation weakened.”

One of these long-languishing nominees is Deborah Lipstadt, picked to serve as the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. She has unquestionable qualifications for the position: a historian and author of numerous Holocaust and antisemitism books; Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University; consultant to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; former member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; recipient of the Albert D. Chernin Award from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

The hold up in her confirmation has been linked to Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. James Risch (R-ID) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). The pair have reportedly taken offense to a tweet Lipstadt sent last year calling out Johnson for promoting “white supremacy/nationalism.”

Rap sheet

Unlike ambassadorships and Cabinet department positions, Biden has seen success in confirming judicial nominees, owing to the lower threshold for approval in the Senate. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for Andre Mathis, a Tennessee lawyer who has a long history of representing criminal defendants as part of the Criminal Justice Act Panel and Tennessee Innocence Project. As a Black man and a defense attorney, Mathis’ confirmation would add to the diverse slate of judges appointed by Biden—far more diverse in race, gender, and background than those nominated by previous presidents.

During his confirmation hearing to be on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals—a court with jurisdiction over Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee—Republican senators attempted to derail the proceedings with attacks on Mathis’ past driving record.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) called his decade-old speeding tickets a “rap sheet,” a telling choice of words when the nominee in question is a Black man (clip):

On the eve of his hearing it has been made public that he has a rap sheet with a laundry list of citations, including multiple failures to appear in court in Tennessee.

Mathis explained that he “forgot to pay” a 2010 and 2011 traffic citation, leading to the temporary suspension of his driver’s license (clip). “I can assure the Committee that I’m a law-abiding citizen. I’ve never been arrested, I’ve never been charged with a crime, and again, I sincerely regret my actions there,” he said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) defended Mathis, saying (clip):

Senator Blackburn refers to your ‘rap sheet’, as she called it. Well if speeding tickets are a rap sheet, I’ve got one too… I hope that anybody in the room who has never driven five miles over the limit would please raise their hand… We’ve all, I think, been guilty of that sin.

It’s unlikely that Blackburn is actually upset about Mathis’ traffic tickets. What’s more likely is that Republicans are angered that the Democrats are ignoring the blue slip tradition—precedent set by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) during the Trump administration. As Chairman Durbin explained during the hearing (clip):

Senator Grassley reversed Senator Leahy’s practice, moving forward with circuit nominees even when the home state senators objected. As chair, Senator Graham continued that practice… Republican committee chairs held hearings on 18 circuit nominees who did not have the approval blue slips from home-state Democrats. Republican committee chairs voted all 18 out of the judiciary committee during the Trump administration…

My concerns and the concerns of my Democratic colleagues were ignored. Republicans chose to abandon this senatorial courtesy. My colleagues across the aisle, I think, would be hard-pressed now to demand that Democrats reinstate this practice. Simply put, there shouldn’t be one set of rules for Republican nominees under a Republican president and a different set for nominees under a Democratic president.

In other words, Republicans changed the rules to benefit themselves under Trump and are frustrated that it is now a disadvantage for their party.

Dr. Fauci

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared before the Senate Health Committee to testify and answer questions about the Omicron variant and federal response.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) took the opportunity to continue his feud with Fauci, this time accusing him of orchestrating a smear campaign to denounce conservative academics who had opposed shutdown measures (clip).

Paul: In an email exchange with Dr. Collins, you conspire and I quote here directly from the email to create a quick and devastating published takedown of three prominent epidemiologists from Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford…Do you really think it’s appropriate to use your $420,000 salary to attack scientists that disagree with you?

Fauci: The email you’re referring to was an email [from] Dr. Collins to me. if you look at the email—

Paul: That you responded to and hurried up and said ‘I can do it, I can do it, we got something in Wired magazine.’

Paul: No, no, I think in usual fashion, Senator, you are distorting everything about me—

Paul: Did you ever object to Dr. Collins’ characterization of them as fringe? Did you write back to Dr. Collins and say ‘no, they’re not fringe, they’re esteemed scientists and it would be beneath me?’ You responded to him that you would do it and you immediately got an article in Wired and you sent it back to him and said ‘hey look, I’ve got them. I nailed them in Wired’ of all scientific publications.

Paul: That’s not what went on. There you go again. You just do the same thing every hearing.

Paul: This wasn’t the only time. So your desire to take down people—

Paul: You’re absolutely incorrect as usual, senator, you are incorrect [about] almost everything you’ve said… You keep distorting the truth. It is stunning.

Fauci then went on to speak about the threats he has faced because of the rightwing villainization of him (clip):

The last time we had a committee, or the time before it, he was accusing me of being responsible for the death of 4 to 5 million people, which is really irresponsible. and I say, why is he doing that? There are two reasons why that’s really bad… What happens when he gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that all of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there and I have threats upon my life, harassments of my family and my children with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me…

So I asked myself, why would a senator want to do this? Go to Rand Paul’s website, and you see ‘fire Dr. Fauci’ with a little box that says, ‘contribute here.’ You can do $5, $10, $20, $100. So you are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain.

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) joined in on the “political gain” train by inventing a “big tech” conspiracy to hide Dr. Fauci’s publicly available financial disclosure forms:

Marshall: So Dr. Fauci, according to Forbes, you have an annual salary in 2020 was $434,000. You oversee over $5 billion in federal research grants. As the highest paid employee in the entire federal government, yes or no, would you be willing to submit to Congress and the public a financial disclosure that includes your past and current investments? After all, your colleague, Dr. Walensky, and every member of congress submits a financial disclosure that includes their investments.

Fauci: I don’t understand why you’re asking me that question. My financial disclosure is public knowledge and has been so for the last 37 years or so, 35 years.

Marshall: The big tech giants are doing an incredible job of keeping it from being public. We’ll continue to look for it. Where would we find it?

Fauci: All you have to do is ask for it. You’re so misinformed, it’s extraordinary. All you have to do is ask for it.

Marshall continued to insist something nefarious was being hidden from the public, prompting Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) to step in to end his repetitive questioning. In a hot mic moment that went viral, Fauci can be heard saying “what a moron” as Marshall’s questioning time ended.

The senator immediately announced that he is introducing legislation called the Financial Accountability for Uniquely Compensated Individuals (FAUCI) Act, to require the “public access of financial disclosures on the official Office of Government Ethics (OGE) website.” Currently, only presidential appointee disclosures are posted on OGE’s website. Reports from other officials, like Fauci, can be obtained by contacting their agency directly.