NJ Legislature honors Anthony Fauci, target of GOP criticism
TRENTON – State lawmakers approved a resolution honoring Dr. Anthony Fauci at their Thursday sessions, in a nearly entirely partisan vote.
Fauci, 80, has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. The resolution said he is “a leading and trusted voice for science and evidence-based decision-making” and that his “clear communication and even temperament have been key” in the COVID-19 response.
“This Legislature hereby honors Dr. Anthony Fauci as an exceptionally dedicated and talented physician, scientist, educator, administrator, spokesperson, politician, and advisor to our Congress and presidents and recognizes his significant contributions to science, medicine, and the promotion of global health security,” the resolution says.
No Democrats spoke in support of Fauci, who has become a target of conservatives and former President Donald Trump, which has been renewed this week after thousands of pages of his email correspondence from 2020 were released. Nearly a half-dozen Republicans made critical speeches before voting.
Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, said Fauci minimized the risk of COVID-19 early in the pandemic and switched his views on lockdowns, mask-wearing, herd immunity targets and more.
“Dr. Fauci has a history of flip-flops,” Pennacchio said. “He is careful to cover his scientific gluteus with verbs such as could and might.”
“As a leader over the past 30 years in national health, it was Dr. Fauci’s responsibility to prevent and prepare this nation for a potential pandemic,” Pennacchio said. “Dr. Anthony Fauci may have contributed to the pandemic but unfortunately in a negative way.”
“Dr. Fauci’s career may be long and may have some merit attached to it, however it seems to me he has been more devoted to the advancement of himself and political science than he was to health science,” he said. “This man does not deserve to be applauded.”
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said the Legislature shouldn’t have been “sitting in judgement of Dr. Fauci.”
“To be voting on Dr. Fauci, his effectiveness and whether or not people believe that he was making the right decision, I believe it’s posted for political reasons and not for substantive reasons,” Bramnick said. “There are many Americans who contributed to the solving of the dilemma, but this body decides to post a bill with respect to someone who’s controversial.”
Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex, said the resolution was wrong and “just a political stunt on an unproven guy.”
“Dr. Fauci, his record has not been proven yet by any means. No mask, mask. Six feet, three feet. Kids in school. He’s all over the place. He’s trying to sell a book now,” Wirths said.
“There’s so many people that need to be honored. And the main ones, the reason we’re all here today and the country is opening up is the vaccinations, and to discredit – it was the Warp Speed,” he said. “If anything got us back as America and got us back as a state, it was the vaccinations and Warp Speed, and the great men and woman and the scientists at Pfizer and Merck and Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.”
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, said Fauci had been wrong in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when he speculated the virus could be spread by being in routine close contact with an infected person, not through bodily fluids.
“We all have respect for Dr. Fauci, but he is fallible,” Munoz said. “And I think for this body to honor him is not warranted.”
“I think that what really bothers many people is the inconsistency in his messaging over the last several months,” she said. “And when he told the rest of us that we didn’t have to wear masks but then we had to wear masks, but we couldn’t go to church yet he went to a baseball game. And he didn’t wear the mask at the baseball game. … The story is not done here being told on Dr. Fauci.”
Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, said the accolades for Fauci are premature and that “the jury is still out.”
“It’s dangerous when a man loves being in the limelight, and I think history will show that Dr. Fauci just enjoyed it a little bit too much,” said Doherty, who said it was “really sick” that Fauci wore a jersey with the number 19 – as in COVID-19 – when throwing out a first pitch at a Washington Nationals game.
The resolution, ACR195/SCR134, had been introduced last October. It passed 44-12 with 15 votes to abstain in the Assembly and 24-9 in the Senate.
Just one Republican voted for the resolution: Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic. The other Republicans either voted no, voted to abstain or didn’t vote.
When the resolution was considered by the Senate health committee in February, Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, voted for it, and Sens. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, and James Holzapfel, R-Ocean, voted to abstain. All three voted against it Thursday.
All Democrats but one voted yes or didn’t vote. Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union, voted to abstain.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.