Plus, a major milestone on the YouTube channel!

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

Are you new here? Get free emails to your inbox daily. Would you rather listen? You can find our podcast here.

Today's read: 13 minutes.

Today, we're breaking down Dr. Fauci's testimony before Congress. Plus, a major YouTube milestone, and an important under-the-radar story.

Thank you!

We did it! We hit 10,000 subscribers on YouTube. Huge congratulations to our YouTube executive producer Jon Lall and the team — and thank you to everyone who subscribed yesterday. Don't forget to go check out our channel.

We have openings!

Tangle just posted three openings for internship positions this summer! All positions are paid, and can be offered with class credit for interested college students.

  • A writing and research internship. Apply here.
  • A communications and public relations internship. Apply here.
  • A business development internship. Apply here.

Quick hits.

  1. President Joe Biden issued an executive order that will halt asylum requests at the U.S. southern border once a seven-day average of illegal crossings hits 2,500 per day. In April, the average was 4,296 per day, and the policy is expected to go into effect immediately. (The order)
  2. A federal advisory board voted not to recommend the psychedelic drug MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, citing inadequate data and the drug’s risk of abuse and causing heart issues. (The decision)
  3. Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) and Republican entrepreneur Curtis Bashaw won their Senate primary races in New Jersey on Tuesday. They will face off with current Sen. Bob Menendez (D), who is facing bribery charges and filed to run for re-election as an independent. (The results)
  4. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears likely to win a third term, though his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party lost its outright majority. (The election)
  5. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul brought felony charges against three associates of former President Trump for their fake elector scheme in 2020. (The charges)

Today's topic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s congressional testimony. On Monday, Dr. Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and former chief White House medical advisor, sat for a three-and-a-half hour hearing before the special House subcommittee investigating the origins of Covid-19. 

In Fauci’s first congressional hearing in nearly two years, he faced questioning on whether the Covid-19 virus originated in a virology lab in Wuhan, China, the possibility of whether National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding could have contributed to a potential lab leak, and his relationship with a longtime adviser accused of misconduct. Republican committee members also questioned and criticized Fauci on mask mandates, six-foot social distancing recommendations, vaccine development, his potential usage of a private email, and his public messaging during the pandemic. 

Fauci insisted that he maintains an open mind about the origins of the virus, though he had previously endorsed the theory that it spread from animals to humans and still believes that is the more likely explanation. He was also defensive against questioning from Republicans alleging the NIH funded and covered up a lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“The accusation being circulated that I influenced these scientists to change their minds by bribing them with millions of dollars in grant money is absolutely false and simply preposterous,” Fauci said.

In one representative exchange, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) asked pointed questions about government protection protocols put in place during the pandemic. “Dr. Fauci, you oversaw one of the most invasive regimes of domestic policy the U.S. has ever seen, including mask mandates, school closures, coerced vaccination, social distancing of six feet and more,” Wenstrup said.

“It actually came from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. The CDC was responsible for those kinds of guidelines for schools, not me,” Fauci said. “It had little to do with me, since I didn’t make the recommendation. And my saying there was no science behind it means there was no clinical trial that proved that. That’s just one of the things that got a little distorted.” 

Committee member Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) accused Fauci of “crimes against humanity” and suggested he belonged in prison, comments that would later be admonished by the committee’s chair. Fauci responded to questions about social distancing measures by saying that Covid was a “moving target” and the science was constantly changing, at one point arguing that without measures to slow it down another million people might have died.

Much of the hearing was spent discussing former NIAID senior adviser David Morens and EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S. research group that collaborated on studies with Wuhan and was recently defunded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Congressional investigators found that Morens, who worked with Fauci for several decades, attempted to avoid Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by using his personal email account to communicate with EcoHealth President Peter Daszak. In correspondences with Daszak, Morens suggested that Fauci sometimes used a private email to conduct government business and that he was seeking to protect EcoHealth from losing a grant.

Fauci distanced himself from both Morens and Daszak during questioning, saying he supported HHS’ decision to defund EcoHealth. He insisted that Morens “was not an adviser” to him and that the two did not work closely, despite their 24 years spent together at the agency Fauci headed. 

Democrats mostly used their time for questioning to praise Fauci as an American hero, or ask him questions about the many threats he and his family received during his time serving the country. In an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins following the hearing, Fauci bemoaned the partisan fervor of the hearing. 

“The level of vitriol that we see now, [not] just in the country in general, but actually played out during this hearing was really quite unfortunate,” Fauci said.

Fauci, who served as the director of NIAID for more than 38 years, retired at the end of 2022 after working in both the Trump and Biden administrations during the pandemic.

Today, we’re going to look at some arguments from the left and right about the testimony, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left defends Fauci against claims that he misled the public about Covid.
  • Some say the committee had nothing of substance to ask Fauci.
  • Others say both parties missed a chance to ask meaningful questions about the United States’s Covid response.

In The Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik wrote “Fauci faces the House GOP’s clown show about COVID.”

Fauci is “revered in the communities of immunologists and virologists; even after Trump sidelined him because he was speaking truths about COVID that Trump didn’t like, he was a prominent spokesman for a scientific approach to the pandemic,” Hiltzik said. “Here’s how he was depicted by Republicans during a hearing Monday of the GOP-dominated Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus: as the mastermind of ‘dogmatic’ policies that resulted in school closings and business failures, of forced vaccinations, of ‘one of the most invasive regimes of domestic policy the U.S. has ever seen.’” 

“None of those accusations… has the slightest relationship with truth. They’re all elements of a campaign among Republicans and right-wingers aimed at painting Fauci, 83, who retired from NIAID in December 2022, as ‘a comic-book supervillain,’” Hiltzik wrote. “Why are they doing this? One answer must be that conspiracists always need a target to attack in order to attract followers. At the core of this campaign is the Republican conviction that COVID escaped from a Chinese laboratory. Since there is absolutely no evidence for this theory that anyone has yet produced, Plan B has been to smear anyone in the firing line. Unfortunately for Fauci, he’s the designated ‘it.’”

In The Washington Post, Dana Milbank called the hearing “another Committee to Confirm Our Conspiracy Theories.”

“Last fall, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, made an incendiary public accusation that… Anthony Fauci ‘was escorted into Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters — without a record of entry — and participated in the analysis to ‘influence’ the agency’s review’ to say that covid-19 did not originate from a lab leak,” Milbank said. “Fox News, the New York Post and the rest of the right-wing conspiracy machine ran with it. And then — nothing. The subcommittee came up with no evidence to support the claim.” 

“And, so, when Fauci appeared before Congress on Monday, Republicans on the panel hit him with whatever else they could come up with,” Milbank wrote. “The constant repetition of the conspiracy theories is anything but amusing for, as Fauci testified, it has caused endless harassment of him and his family… Yet Republicans on the panel, rather than focusing on lessons about masks, vaccines, and school and business closures that could save lives in the future, kept returning to the same conspiracy theories that are endangering Fauci’s life in the present.”

In Bloomberg, F.D. Flam said “Congress just blew its chance” to offer closure on Covid. 

“Congress blew its chance Monday to give Americans some insight into the Covid pandemic that dominated our lives for years,” Flam wrote. “Many of us still want to know why the US had more burdensome restrictions yet still lost more people, per capita, than other countries. We still want a coherent, honest explanation for how the pandemic started… Yet yesterday, representatives from both parties showed no curiosity, either for themselves or for the American people.”

“Republicans could have questioned whether vaccine and booster mandates should have been lifted once it was clear the shots prevented serious illness only, and had little ability to protect others against infection. But those questions didn’t fit either political party’s preferred narrative… House Democrats wanted to push the idea that the virus came from nature. That’s kind of a non-answer. Virologists have effectively refuted claims that the virus could only have come about through genetic manipulation,” Flam said. “The investigation into Covid’s origins has left an information gap. This hearing was a chance to fill that gap, but our politicians were too busy talking to help us learn anything new.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right says the hearing showed many of Fauci’s most restrictive Covid policies were also the most arbitrary.
  • Some express disappointment that Fauci won’t face formal consequences for his Covid missteps.
  • Others criticize Fauci for failing to take accountability for NIAID’s mistakes.

In The New York Post, Kirsten Fleming said “Fauci’s God complex destroyed trust in American institutions.”

“In the early weeks of the pandemic, I admired and trusted Fauci — thinking he stood for continuity, experience and restraint. In such an unprecedented time, it felt like having a steady hand at the wheel. But as two weeks to stop the spread turned into two years of moving the goalposts — and making up different metrics until we could return to normal — it was clear the doctor was developing a God complex. And much of our media became higher clergy genuflecting at every turn,” Fleming wrote. “Many adherents found in Fauci a religious purpose, with a mask and a needle serving as virtue symbols and ‘Trust the science’ as their main recitation. Anyone with questions or objections was a heretic to be shamed.”

“The 6-foot method shaped our mentality on everything from business to social gatherings, effectively making connections impossible and creating a pandemic of loneliness. People lost their jobs for refusing to get a jab,” Fleming said. “COVID-19 was a novel virus, and we were all learning in real time. But there was no humility and no openness from Fauci & Co. — only suppression and control… He leaves in his wake a tidal wave of American distrust in institutions. And an absolute inability to see his role in dissolving that trust.”

In RedState, the blogger Bonchie bemoaned “the accountability that will never come” for Fauci.

“Fauci allegedly lied under oath about American funding going to the lab in Wuhan. He also worked diligently to protect the Chinese government, doing everything he could to scuttle the so-called ‘lab leak theory’ which has now become the most credible explanation for the coronavirus' origins,” Bonchie wrote. “As to the ‘science’ he was constantly touting, there was very little of it backing his recommendations that formed the backbone of lockdowns and mitigation measures across the country. That whole six-foot rule thing? Fauci admitted during the hearing that no clinical trials demonstrated such a decree's efficacy.

“When pressed on the ability of the various COVID-19 vaccines to stop the spread, Fauci went back to an old standby, insisting that early on, transmission was reduced. His evidence for that? There doesn't appear to be any,” Bonchie added. “We appear doomed to repeat the current cycle of Fauci appearing in public and saying the same things he's already said while the same Republicans say the same things they've already said. Fauci is now retired after being the highest-paid official in the federal government. He's going to ride off into the sunset with both middle fingers in the air.”

In The Washington Examiner, Jon Miltimore wrote “Fauci concedes wrongdoing at NIAID, just not by him.”

“National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases officials took active steps to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests, including destroying records and intentionally misspelling names to avoid searches… The fact that Fauci was running the department didn’t seem to bother him. Indeed, Fauci’s deflection of responsibility for anything was the primary theme of the hearings,” Miltimore said. “Meanwhile, a perusing of articles from 2020 and 2021 and comical video evidence make it clear that Fauci’s claim that he was not ‘leaning totally strongly one way or another’ in the origin debate is false.”

“Though Democrats gushed over Fauci’s pandemic response… the only thing we really learned at the hearing was that Fauci wasn’t responsible for anything. Not the corruption at NIAID, the agency he led. Not the unscientific policies he may or may not have supported, depending on who’s asking,” Miltimore wrote. “The hearing was a four-hour reminder of the problem with putting politicians and bureaucrats in charge of people’s personal lives… It’s important to understand that unaccountability is a feature of bureaucracy, not a bug.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • Republicans spent too much time personally attacking Fauci, while Democrats spent too much time pretending he was infallible.
  • Fauci had a hard job, but he definitely made some mistakes that we can learn from.
  • The six-feet rule, the lab-leak theory obfuscation, potential corruption issues, and how far mandates should go are all things we could have learned more about this hearing.

The United States’s Covid response is such an infuriating topic to write about because I struggle to find coalitions — or even individual politicians — whom I agree with.

My overarching feeling after watching and reading transcripts of the hearing is that it was a colossal missed opportunity. Democrats spent too much time deifying Fauci and refusing to ask him questions that contained any curiosity or skepticism, while Republicans spent too much time trying to make him out to be Satan reincarnate. 

The hearing also had a number of threads that are challenging to write about in a unified and coherent way. So, here is a list of my takeaways:

  • It is not a conspiracy theory that Covid-19 might have started in a laboratory. There are strong, mainstream arguments for the lab origins theory, and there are very good, mainstream arguments for the zoonosis hypothesis. I've read enough about this debate to affirmatively say that I don’t know where Covid-19 originated, nor do any of these members of Congress. I can also say that I learned zero new information from Monday's hearing about this very important question, which should be embarrassing for the committee.
  • Fauci insisted that he has kept an open mind about the origins of Covid-19, but his public comments have not reflected a sense of open consideration. He has, from the beginning, clearly believed that Covid spread from animals to humans. At the same time, suggestions from Republicans like Rep. Brad Wenstrup (OH) that Fauci was escorted to the CIA to influence the agency's review of Covid's origins are conspiracies, and Wenstrup has provided nothing to back up that ridiculous claim.
  • On the question of Covid’s origins, Fauci has an obvious conflict of interest. His agency helps award grants to study viruses in laboratories, and it's possible that kind of research led to the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, Fauci would have an inherent bias to believe (and hope) that such research — or poor adherence to standards about conducting that research — did not cause a global pandemic. That motive isn't complicated, and anyone pretending otherwise is lying to you or themselves.
  • Fauci distanced himself from his adviser David Morens, but I'm not really buying it. To recap: Morens worked inside Fauci's agency for 24 years. Fauci's agency approved funding for EcoHealth Alliance, which collaborated on studies in Wuhan. EcoHealth’s funding was cut under the Trump administration, and Morens (whose role in government was to provide oversight for companies like EcoHealth) then communicated with EcoHealth’s president (on a personal email, to avoid FOIA oversight) on how to respond to the defunding, and about how Fauci was hoping to get the funding restored. That funding was eventually restored, and now EcoHealth has once again had its funding cut (under Biden) because of failures to comply with oversight rules. These incidents are all shady, but also examples of run-of-the-mill government corruption. The HHS was right to suspend EcoHealth’s funding and should ban Morens and Daszak from future grants, and it should also investigate whether Morens’s allegations about Fauci are true. If they are, he should face a punishment as well.
  • Fauci had an extremely difficult job and constraining Covid-19 was a seemingly impossible challenge, as evidenced by the major secondary challenges incurred by most countries that successfully contained the virus (like extreme economic disruption, social upheaval, or major outbreaks on a delayed timeline). The reverse is also true. In the U.S., for instance, we had some of the highest rates of infection and death, but we've arguably done the best economically through the pandemic.

I'm sympathetic to how difficult the task before Fauci was. He was operating inside an administration that wanted to downplay the severity of the virus while trying to guide a country that — for better or worse — values individualism and freedom over collective sacrifice, and he was doing it all while trying to make predictions about a once-in-a-lifetime pathogen that we did not understand very well for its first six months as it spread across the globe.

At the same time, it’s fair to criticize (and learn from) his mistakes. For instance, Fauci now concedes that the six-foot social-distancing guideline did not have strong scientific backing, but it did incur major costs. Simultaneously, though, a lot of the criticism isn’t his alone; Fauci made the very valid point that he was not the person deciding every public policy on Covid-19. Agencies he didn't head — like the Centers for Disease Control — had just as much influence on pandemic guidelines, if not more. And even in the agencies he did lead, he was being advised by other experts in the field who helped him form recommendations as a group to the Trump administration, which ultimately set public health policy. 

In fact, debates over guidelines like the six-foot rule actually provide great insight into the complexity of science as well as the missed opportunity for better questions. I interviewed columnist Faye Flam (featured under “What the left is saying”) for today’s Tangle podcast, and she made a good point: Republicans asked a series of loaded questions about the lack of scientific backing for the six-foot rule, implying that the guideline was totally unnecessary. But scientists learned that the actual problem with the rule was that Covid could spread at greater distances than six feet, meaning that distance from an infected person wasn’t the critical factor for transmission but time spent indoors with them. 

That revelation could change public policy in meaningful ways, and this hearing could have sussed those nuances out for the public. But it didn’t. That unrealized potential for understanding is what frustrated me the most about this hearing. In the brief moments when committee members asked smart, curious, open-minded questions, we actually got some insightful answers.

For instance, Mitch Benzine, the staff director for the Covid select committee, asked Fauci a series of inquisitive and tough questions about the government’s response to Covid. At one point, Fauci argued that lockdown measures in the early days of the pandemic were justified, but also conceded that school and business closures may have been too harsh and gone on too long. He added that it was "very, very clear" that public health officials responding to the next pandemic would need to consider more seriously "the potential collateral negative effects" of policies mandating wearing masks or getting vaccines. 

These kinds of back and forths could have been the bulk of the hearing, but instead we were left with partisan grandstanding. I would have loved to hear answers to questions like these: What do you think is the best argument that Covid-19 originated in a lab? Were the procedures at the Wuhan Institute of Virology sufficient to contain airborne viruses like SARS‑CoV‑2? If a virus like Covid-19 were to arrive in the U.S. today, what would you do again and what would you do differently? What is the government doing right now to prepare for the next pandemic? What should it be doing?

In the end, it seemed like Republicans were trying to hold Fauci to account by diminishing his character and insisting he belonged in jail, but they were really performing theater. Democrats thought they were allying themselves “with science” and the public good by praising Fauci, refusing to ask him any critical questions, and apologizing for their Republican colleagues. But really, they were missing an opportunity to glean meaningful insights for the public. In the end, what could have been an informative hearing ended up another disappointing and predictable spectacle.

Take the survey: Do you approve or disapprove of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s performance during the pandemic? Let us know!

Disagree? That's okay. My opinion is just one of many. Write in and let us know why, and we'll consider publishing your feedback.

Help share Tangle.

I'm a firm believer that our politics would be a little bit better if everyone were reading balanced news that allows room for debate, disagreement, and multiple perspectives. If you can take 15 seconds to share Tangle with a few friends I'd really appreciate it — just click the button below and pick some people to email it to!

Your questions, answered.

We're skipping the reader question today to give our main story some extra space. Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

In 2020, an opaque organization called the Impetus Fund received a $64 million donation from a single anonymous source. That money was then routed through a series of accounts and was eventually used to help Joe Biden defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election. The donation — and the mystery around it — has become emblematic of the increasingly opaque campaign funding that is now going full-tilt in the 2024 election. “Circular laundering of dark money,” as campaign finance expert Craig Holman put it, is already boosting both Biden’s and Trump's campaigns this election cycle, and some watchdog groups believe historic levels of dark money will go to funding the 2024 race. CBS News has the story.


  • 20,150. The seven-day average of hospitalized patients with Covid in the U.S. on January 8, 2024, the highest of the past six months, according to Covid Act Now. 
  • 6,125. The seven-day average of hospitalized patients with Covid in the U.S. on April 27, 2024 (the most recent day for which data is available). 
  • 68%. The approximate percentage of the U.S. population that has received at least 2 doses of the mRNA Covid vaccine (or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) as of May 2023. 
  • -15%. Americans’ decrease in trust in Dr. Anthony Fauci between December 2020 and April 2022, according to KFF. 
  • -9%. Americans’ decrease in trust in the CDC between December 2020 and April 2022.
  • -8%. Americans’ decrease in trust in the FDA between December 2020 and April 2022.
  • 75%. The percentage of Democrats who reported wearing a mask most of the time in the past 30 days in March 2022. 
  • 30%. The percentage of Republicans who reported wearing a mask most of the time in the past 30 days in March 2022. 
  • 49%. The percentage of Americans who said the pandemic had had a negative effect on their mental health in March 2022.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we wrote about why insurers are fleeing California.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was a link to our YouTube channel, which now has over 10,000 subscribers.
  • Nothing to do with politics: The return of otter 841 — the Santa Cruz surfboard-stealing otter.
  • Yesterday’s survey: 462 readers answered our survey on the election of Mexican President Claudia Sheinbaum with 27% neither optimistic nor pessimistic. “Rarely will a foreign politician affect my day to day life. A Mexican president might be the closest politician but I don't know how or even if this will affect me,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

The last rat on Tromelin Island, a scrubby island in the western Indian Ocean near Madagascar, was killed in 2005. The rodents likely arrived in the late 1700s and, as they’ve done on hundreds of other islands around the world, ate their way through many bird eggs, eventually decimating the populations. By 2005, when French authorities began eradicating the rats, only two bird species were left: a few hundred pairs of masked and red-footed boobies. Today, two decades later, Tromelin Island is once again a healthy seabird habitat, home to thousands of breeding pairs in seven different species. Hakai Magazine has the story.

Don't forget...

📣 Share Tangle on Twitter here, Facebook here, or LinkedIn here.

🎥 Follow us on Instagram here or subscribe to our YouTube channel here

💵 If you like our newsletter, drop some love in our tip jar.

🎉 Want to reach 100,000+ people? Fill out this form to advertise with us.

📫 Forward this to a friend and tell them to subscribe (hint: it's here).

🛍 Love clothes, stickers and mugs? Go to our merch store!

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 100,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!

Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.