When Covid hit the United States in 2020, Fauci entered the national spotlight as the face of the government’s response to the pandemic. His role in front of the public has earned him global notoriety, seen by many as a hero of the pandemic era. But Fauci’s stardom has also earned him pariah status in some circles, including among Republican lawmakers, Covid skeptics and opponents of public health measures aimed at tackling the virus.
Those attacks continued in the hours after his announcement on Monday, with GOP lawmakers hitting Fauci for the timing of his decision. representing Darrell Issa (R-California) said Fauci’s decision to step down in December will not prevent any potential Republican-led Congress from “telling the truth about his disastrous tenure.” representing Andy Bigg (R-Arizona) echoed that message.
“Dr. Fauci is conveniently stepping down from his post in December before House Republicans have a chance to hold him accountable for the destruction of our country over the past three years,” he said on Twitter.
Fauci has had an outsized impact for decades on public health policy and has advised every president since Ronald Reagan. The doctor joined the NIH in 1968 under then-president Lyndon Johnson, and in 1984 Fauci was tapped to head the infectious diseases branch as the AIDS epidemic rocked the country, a period during which the scientist rose to prominence for his work.
Under President George W. Bush, Fauci was one of the architects of the global PEPFAR program, designed to fight HIV/AIDS. The program has saved an estimated 21 million lives and Bush awarded Fauci the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008.
It’s not yet clear what Fauci will do next, but he made it clear with his announcement that he has no plans to retire. He said he hopes to use this next chapter to “inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders.”
“Although I am leaving my current positions, I am not retiring. After more than 50 years of government service, I intend to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field,” he said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said on Monday he relied on Fauci’s “wisdom and guidance” as his agency led its Covid response and said the “decades of service doctor’s public have undoubtedly improved the health of millions of people around the world”.
Biden praised Fauci as a “dedicated public servant” and said one of his first calls as president-elect was to the doctor, asking him to become his chief medical adviser.
“Whether you met him personally or not, he touched the lives of every American with his work. I send him my most sincere thanks for his public service. The United States of America is stronger, more resilient and healthier because of him.