Burchett plus falsehoods equals embarrassment

July 31, 2023 6:00 am
U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) photographed in a meeting of the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on January 31, 2023. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) photographed in a meeting of the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on January 31, 2023. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Conover Kennard at the site Crooks and Liars had some fun recently with bizarre statements from East Tennessee U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett. The headline on Kennard’s article was, “WTF: We’re not sure if this Republican is talking in tongues or not.”  She relayed much of Burchett’s blather about Dr. Anthony Fauci blurted to Newsmax host Chris Salcedo.

“He  needs to go!” Burchett exclaimed, skipping several synapses and adding, “In fact, he did lie.  He needs to be brought up on those charges.” We are left to imagine what Burchett is referencing here — perjury for expressing an opinion on the most likely origin story of the COVID virus?

Burchett likes to take his game of aw-shucks-faux-populism to radical right channels like Newsmax, perhaps knowing his claims will largely go unchallenged.  Thus, he was able to go directly from his opening salvo to this whopper, “And we need to find out why American taxpayers were payin’ to create a disease that, according to some Democrats, almost wiped out civilization.”

Whoa! Is he peddling some sort of conspiracy theory here that the virus was deliberately constructed? Is he confused by virus mutation which occurs naturally?  The taxpayer funding is the most curious aside here.  The most relevant financial choice here was a cut: the Trump Administration in mid-2019 eliminated a Centers for Disease Control liaison embedded in China, which helped with training and kept a line of communication between U.S. and Chinese health officials.  Five months after Trump cut the position, China had its first COVID-19 cases. A liaison could have relayed concerns about China’s hiding of the initial cases, and thus could have sped the global response.

Tennessee U.S. Rep Tim Burchett recently made a host of bizarre statements on a right-wing news outlet, insinuating that the retired Dr. Anthony Fauci found a way to intentionally alter the COVID-19 virus — which spontaneously mutated — and that Fauci needed to be “popped.”

Oh, and let’s not forget Burchett’s glib straw man claim about Democrats worrying the virus would wipe out civilization. Persons of all political stripes in 2019 and 2020 rightly were worried about a deadly and rapidly spreading virus that, as of this writing, is now nearing seven million deaths.

Burchett rambled on, “You know, and why are we still payin’ this guy 400-plus thousand. We need to pop him good, and hang a felony on him is what we need to do. People lost their lives because of this nonsense, and they are playin’ God.  They took a virus and they altered it. He claimed they didn’t. My friend Rand Paul busted him.”

This jumbled pile of nonsense will need to be untangled. The first-year pension payout of the recently retired Fauci is in excess of $400,000. The 82-year-old spent more than half a century in public service. Congressmen, even those who gum up the works and parrot nonsense, pull in $174,000 annually.

No follow-up question plumbed the reason to “pop him good, and hang a felony on him” or even sought to clarify who the “they” are who are playing God and altering viruses. Further, fact checkers have a decidedly different view of Fauci’s clashes with Senator and self-accredited ophthalmologist Rand Paul. in the summer of 2021 posted a thorough dissection of Paul’s false statements, exaggerations, and unsupported extrapolations. The dispute turned on the arcane point of what counts as “gain-of-function” research. The National Institutes of Health, the research group, and the lead researcher all say the experiments were not gain-of-function.

FactCheck concluded, “There’s no evidence that Fauci lied to Congress, as Paul asserted in the July 20 hearing, given that the NIH unequivocally backs up Fauci’s statement that the grant-backed research ‘was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function.’”

For the record, Fauci served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President for seven different administrations. His work has included research and action to curb HIV/AIDS and Ebola. He tamed some of the worst health policy impulses of the Trump Administration and helped develop the Biden Administrations successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

It’s hard to read the chuckle from the Newsmax host at the end of this segment.  Was he amused to find that Burchett could bloviate all the right-wing disinformation in one rambling mess?  Was he pleased these statements would feed the conspiratorial inclinations of the Newsmax audience?  Was he pondering how his career led him to this on-screen moment with Burchett’s raging gibberish?  We cannot know, but we do know the public debate just got a lot sillier thanks to our congressman

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Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon is a professor of journalism and media at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.