WASHINGTON, D.C. – Champaign County GOP Rep. Jim Jordan had a combative exchange on Friday with longtime National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci over whether protests of police violence around the country are spreading coronavirus.
Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield and Assistant HHS Secretary Brett Giroir on Friday testified before the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus. Other members of the bipartisan committee grilled them on subjects including development of a vaccine for the virus, the safety of reopening schools and President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis.
Jordan, a Trump allied co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, used his time to inveigh against government limits on church gatherings and business operations during the pandemic, while Black Lives Matter protests of police violence are allowed.
Jordan argued that permitting protests while cracking down on church services amounts to favoring one First Amendment liberty over another. He asked Fauci whether the protests are spreading coronavirus.
“Crowding together, particularly when you’re not wearing a mask, contributes to the spread of the virus.” Fauci responded.
“Should we limit the protesting?” Jordan continued.
“I’m not in a position to determine what the government can do in a forceful way,” Fauci responded.
“I haven’t seen people during a church service go out and harm police officers or burn buildings,” Jordan continued. “No limit to protests, but you can’t go to church on Sunday.”
Jordan said Fauci had advocated for “certain businesses to be shut down, arguing that he hadn’t “seen one hair stylist who, between haircuts, goes out and attacks police or sets something on fire, but we’ve seen all kinds of that stuff during protests and we know the protests actually increased the spread of the virus. You’ve said that.”
“I said crowds,” said Fauci. “I didn’t say protests do anything … Crowds are known, particularly when you don’t have a mask. to increase the acquisition and transmission.”
After Jordan concluded, Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin noted that a recent Supreme Court decision found it constitutional to restrict the number of people who can attend a church service, as long as the same rule applies to other events like concerts, movies, spectator sports, and theatrical performances. Raskin, a constitutional law professor who often clashes with Jordan, observed that several large religious gatherings ended up being “super spreader” events.
“There is no religious immunity to this disease, and there is no free exercise exemption to universal public health orders,” said Raskin, who posted a video of his remarks on Twitter with a statement that said he wanted to “dispel the thick fog of constitutional confusion left by Jim Jordan’s disgraceful heckling of Dr. Fauci.”
Raskin said people who attend Black Lives Matter protests usually wear masks and abide by social distancing protocols, so they’re less likely to spread coronavirus than protestors who object to public health protocols.
“If you’re really concerned about the protests and people getting sick there, and we should be, then we have to look at the use of tear gas and pepper spray,” said Raskin, who said police have removed protestors masks in order to spray them with chemical irritants that will make them sneeze and cough. “It’s the use of those chemical irritants, I think, which is the real danger.”
Trump was happier with Jordan’s performance.
“Great job by Jim Jordan, and also some very good statements by Tony Fauci,” said a statement Trump posted on Twitter. “Big progress being made!”
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