Chief medical adviser to the president Anthony Fauci made his final appearance in the White House briefing room Tuesday as he retires from government.
“I’ll let other people judge the value or not of my accomplishments, but what I would like people to remember about what I’ve done, is that every day, for all of those years, I’ve given it everything that I have and I’ve never left anything on the field,” Fauci said of his legacy.
“So if they want to remember me, whether they judge rightly or wrongly what I’ve done, I gave it all I got for many decades,” Fauci said.
The longtime health official has worked under seven presidents, serving 54 years with the National Institutes of Health and 38 years as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. But he surged to popularity as one of the leaders of the pandemic response during the Trump administration.
However, his guidance on masks and vaccines has drawn criticism and attacks from conservative lawmakers and officials including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who he frequently sparred with during Senate hearings.
Fauci said COVID-19 is “really, really very important” but called the pandemic “a fragment” of his work in the health space.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre lauded Fauci for his leadership in the medical field for decades before she welcomed him to join her “one more time at the podium.”
“For so many Americans throughout our fight with COVID, Dr. Fauci has been a source of information and facts, but Dr. Fauci’s leadership and legacy stretch far beyond the past couple of years,” Jean-Pierre.
“Whether it be HIV AIDS, Ebola or COVID-19, for close to four decades, and under seven Republican and Democratic presidents, Dr. Fauci has always led with the science, and our country is stronger and healthier because of his leadership,” Jean-Pierre said.
Fauci announced earlier this year that he would step down from his position by the end of President Biden’s time in office, but was quick to clarify that he was only retreating from his government role to “pursue the next chapter” in his career.
“Hard to follow Dr. Fauci, who I would argue has been the most important consequential public servant in the United States in the last half century and a leader and a role model for so many,” said White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha after Fauci stepped away from the podium. “Tony, thank you.”
Fauci reflected on the three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, deriding the “divisiveness” that has plagued the pandemic response.
“As a physician, it pains me, because I don’t want to see anybody get infected. I don’t want to see anybody hospitalized. And I don’t want to see anybody die from COVID,” Fauci said.
“Whether you’re a far-right Republican or a far-left Democrat, doesn’t make any difference to me. I look upon it the same way as I did in the emergency room in the middle of New York City, when I was taking care of everybody that was coming in off the street.”
In his final message from the briefing room, he also urged Americans to get vaccinated and boosted.
“My message, and my final message, maybe the final message I get from this podium, is that please, for your own safety, for that of your family, get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you’re eligible to protect yourself, your family, and your community,” Fauci said.
But Fauci may not be able to get far from government in 2023 when Republicans officially take over the House.
GOP lawmakers have promised to investigate Fauci over the country’s COVID-19 response as they ramp up plans to probe the U.S.-Mexico border, allegations against Hunter Biden and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paul vowed earlier this year to subpoena Fauci’s records if Republicans recaptured the Senate majority. Fauci said he wasn’t relieved that the party failed to take the upper chamber in the midterms because he’d be fine testifying about his actions before Congress.
Fauci back in August dismissed suggestions that the Republican threats influenced his decision to step away from government.
“I have nothing to hide at all, despite the accusations that I’m hiding something. I have nothing that I could not explain clearly to the country and justify,” Fauci told The Hill’s “In The Know” last week.
Updated 2:43 p.m.