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WASHINGTON — A Utah congressman is taking aim at the nation's top infectious disease doctor with a bill unflatteringly titled the FAUCI Act.
Republican Rep. Chris Stewart introduced a bill Tuesday to ban federal funding for "gain-of-function" research in Chinese labs. Some claim bat coronavirus research in Wuhan, China led to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Fairness and Accountability in Underwriting Chinese Institutions Act, or FAUCI Act, would also provide for an accounting of U.S. tax dollars spent on such research, particularly in China, and restrict government officials who intentionally mislead Congress.
National Institutes of Health employees or officials who intentionally mislead Congress or the Inspector General would be ineligible for current or future federal grants and employment, according to the bill.
Stewart said the origin of COVID-19 is one of the most important questions the country faces.
"The American people deserve accountability and transparency. First, we need to ban U.S. taxpayer dollars from funding dangerous research in the labs of our greatest foreign adversary. This is an inexcusable mistake that demands immediate correcting," he said in a statement.
"Second, we need to know exactly how and where American taxpayer dollars were spent. And finally, to ensure we get those answers, we need to establish consequences for anyone who intentionally misleads our investigations.
Stewart said those efforts aren't about assigning blame but preventing another "catastrophe and demanding justice on behalf of the American people."
In an October interview, ABC News' George Stephanopoulos pressed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, over to what extent the U.S. was funding bat coronavirus research in Wuhan after the NIH released a letter about a New York City-based nonprofit's research on bat coronavirus spike proteins. The letter says that the subcontractor had not disclosed some results in a timely manner.
"Now, some critics and analysts have seized on that to say you and others have misled the public about U.S. funding of this so-called gain-of-function research. The NIH says that's false. Our medical unit backs that up," Stephanopoulos said.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has called for Fauci's firing over the controversy.
"Well, I obviously totally disagree with Sen. Paul. He's absolutely incorrect. Neither I nor Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, lied or misled about what we've done," Fauci responded.
Fauci told Stephanopoulos that researchers knew what the risk was and there's "no denial" that they should have submitted their progress report in a timely manner, but the implication that the research led to COVID-19 is "unconscionable" and "molecularly impossible."
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who introduced the FAUCI Act in the Senate earlier this month, said Fauci lied about how the federal money was being used.
"While American tax dollars were being funneled into Communist China to support dangerous experiments on coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab, the head of the division funding those activities, Dr. Fauci, failed to tell the truth to Congress and to the American People about how our money was being spent," she said in a statement.
"Enough is enough," she said, calling a full accounting of how and where tax dollars are going.
Ernst and Stewart said they have pushed to get answers from the NIH about U.S. funding for "dangerous" experiments in China. They said the bill is their most recent effort to hold China accountable, demand transparency and ensure justice.
Today, I introduced the FAUCI Act in the House. Earlier this month, @SenJoniErnst introduced a companion bill in the Senate.— Rep. Chris Stewart (@RepChrisStewart) November 16, 2021
The origin of COVID-19 is one of the most important questions we face. This bill demands transparency and justice on behalf of the American people.