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Sen. Cassidy defends Fauci from GOP criticism, says he has ‘highest respect’ for him

On Tuesday, top U.S. public health officials testified virtually about the coronavirus pandemic before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana is one of two medical doctors within the group. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss strategy for COVID-19 testing, Dr. Anthony Fauci and why he is now “more confident” about the crisis response.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We now turn to two key members from today's hearing.

    First up, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He is one of two medical doctors on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

    Senator Cassidy, thank you so much for talking with us.

    So, did you come away from today's hearing more or less confident in the administration's handling of this pandemic?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.:

    I came away more confident.

    My specific questions, for example, were that we have a whole group of folks called children who are being impacted far more than anybody else relative to their risk of having symptoms from coronavirus infection.

    Dr. Fauci acknowledged that was an issue. He mentioned, though, he had not worked out the tension. I accept there's uncertainty. I just want people thinking about the problem, how do we get kids back to school, mothers and dads able to go to work with their children safely cared for?

    As long as they're working toward a solution, I don't demand a solution right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we did hear Dr. Fauci say he is concerned about the dynamic that they are seeing among some children right now.

    It's clear that's something he and other scientists are focused on. Does that give you pause, though, about when schools should be open?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    It does give me pause.

    But my question I asked him, what is the risk-benefit ratio for how children are being treated? At that critical point when someone is 5, their brain is exploding. That's when they need to be in school.

    It's not like their brain continues to learn like that every year of their life. No, that's when they particularly learn. There is a huge opportunity cost.

    The concerns about Kawasaki disease, it is real, but the bigger concern in terms of just sheer numbers, millions, there are the children who are missing out, both economically, educationally, and potentially other means, from everything that school offers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator, let me also ask you about testing.

    President Trump said yesterday, anybody who wants a test should get one, is able to get one right now. You said earlier today you had questions about testing availability. What do you believe right now?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    I think that what's most important is not the sheer number of tests, but that we're using the test wisely.

    I just got off the phone with the chancellor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. And so when they have 200 people working, they will pool the samples. They will check, OK, all 200 of them are checked at once. If it comes out positive, then they go to 100/100, and then 50/50/50, until they get to one person who has it.

    It may only take five tests to find the one person, but you have found one out of 200. So the overall number isn't important. It's the strategy by which we implement the people for whom we make it available.

    Checking a hermit who lives by himself in the middle of the desert is not important. Checking a child going to school who might infect others, very important. That's where we should focus our efforts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, bottom line, is it accurate to say anybody who wants a test now can get one?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    Well, I'm not sure what we mean by a test.

    I think there's a shortage currently of antigen tests and of antibody tests.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well…

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    I suspect most people that want a swab up their nose can get it, but if you want to see if you have been previously infected, there is a shortage of those. And there's also a shortage of antigen tests.

    But they showed numbers that are credible that they're increasing in their — in their volume.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think we heard that there's still a long way to go in testing.

    But, Senator, I want to ask you about Louisiana, your home state preparing to reopen on Friday, even though, statewide, you have not reached this — this — what was a CDC goal of having 14 straight days of declining cases.

    Are you concerned that it's too early?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    No.

    I think, if you look at a state, you may have a concern, but what you really need the look at is regions of the state. So, it's easier to explain with Texas. I looked a couple weeks ago at where the infection was in Texas, a lot in Harris County, Houston. There was none south of San Antonio, some county along the Rio Grande.

    Now, granted, very few people live there, but the point being a state is actually a set of regions, a set of smaller regions, and then a set of communities and micro-communities.

    I'm more concerned of what's happening in a micro-community, which could spill out, than I am at the state as a whole. If we have adequate testing which is able to zero in on those places with more infection, that's more important than a statewide lockdown in which this region is doing well and folks rightly wonder why they can't go see their barber.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But if the governor of a state says, we are opening up, what's to stop even those communities where cases are increasing from going ahead and opening up and letting businesses go back to something closer to what they — where they were?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    I go back to you have to have strategy on testing.

    If you just open up and say, fare thee well, that's not good. If you open up and you have a strategy, by which you are following where your cases are coming up, and you can go to those areas in which you either have a lot of people at risk if they get infected, or a lot of people at risk to get infected, and that's where you focus your testing, that's how you can simultaneously open up your economy, but do it safely.

    It has to be about a strategy for testing. I keep saying that, not the total number of tests, necessarily, but a strategy. That's what we need.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, Senator, a question about Senator Rand Paul's comment to Dr. Fauci that he is not the end-all and other criticisms we're hearing.

    I heard one today from a former adviser to President Trump, Jason Miller. He said, Anthony Fauci is good at moving the goalposts, that he's the undisputed king of moving accountability away from himself.

    Is that your view?

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    I have nothing but the highest respect for Anthony Fauci, period, end of story.

    Do sometimes facts on the ground change and perceptions change? Absolutely. Fauci said today that he was not the end-all. So, he's bringing a certain humility to it.

    I have had my differences with Fauci. But what I'm after here is not a definite answer, because facts change. I'm after people pursuing the truth.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, we thank you very much.

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy:

    Thank you.

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