During pandemic, Tim Scott embraced masks and Fauci. Will it impact his run for president?
Sen. Tim Scott encouraged people to join a 30-day mask challenge during the COVID pandemic.
When the 2024 presidential campaign season heats up and GOP candidates are likely asked about their connection to conventional pandemic-response doctrine, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott might have a lot for which to answer – but he won't be alone.
Scott, who officially entered the race Monday, urged Americans during the pandemic to wear a mask, supported vaccinations and Dr. Anthony Fauci – who was effectively the country's top medical scientist during the pandemic when much of the U.S. went on lockdown.
"Follow all the social protocols, do everything in your power to wear a mask when you’re outside and wash your hands, you know, say hello with your elbow, not your hands," Scott told students at the June 2020 Virtual Youth Experience event.
The next month, he encouraged people to join a mask challenge, saying, "The next 30 days will decide whether or not kids go back to school – K thru 12 and college. It also will decide whether or not we will have football in the fall. ... Please, whatever you do, wear a mask. If you’re out in public, wear a mask. If you don’t do it because you’re trying to be responsible, then wear a mask because you want college football.”
In February 2021, Scott was campaigning with a mask.
His support for Fauci dates back at least nine months earlier.
"I’m very thankful for folks like ... Dr. Fauci and many others for your dedication 24/7," he said in a Senate hearing that Fauci joined virtually. "Without any question, our nation is safer because of your hard work."
However, he also pointed out the economy was severely wounded by the COVID lockdowns and the decline of mental and physical health during the pandemic.
In a June 2020 congressional hearing, Scott seemed to back a campaign to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, even before the vaccines were fully available.
"If and when, and I feel optimistic that it’s when and not if, we get a viable vaccine we need to encourage folks to choose to get vaccinated," he said.
He later asked about what steps can be taken "at every level of government and in the private sector with healthcare providers to ensure a proactive education campaign and outreach strategy on the importance of getting vaccinated."
Still, roughly two years later, Scott called for the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general to audit President Biden’s $10 billion vaccine public education campaign.
Scott, along with several other Republican senators, wrote in a letter to the inspector general that in part stated: "It is incredible that HHS and the Biden administration would partner with partisan political organizations and Democrat-affiliated campaign consultants on a $10 billion, taxpayer-funded vaccine-confidence, public-education campaign, ostensibly intended to appeal to all Americans."
However, Scott is not alone in support of such measures, which many Republican voters and others opposed and raised questions about – including school closings, the efficacy of masks and the safety of vaccines, considering they were rushed through the federal approval process.
Trump, as president when the pandemic started, created Operation Warp Speed, a program to help pharmaceutical companies create a vaccine that would pass the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency-use authorization.
Trump assigned Fauci, then-director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to the operation. In January 2021, the president awarded Fauci and dozens of others with “presidential commendations” in connection with the program.
Trump repeatedly praised Fauci during the pandemic for his work, but has since criticized him for changing his positions on public health guidance.
Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, set to announce his candidacy for president Wednesday, quickly reopened much of his state during the pandemic and fought against localities that continued mask and vaccine mandates.
He began reopening Florida on April 29, 2020, then ended the lockdown on Sept. 25 of that year.
While attending Trump’s White House vaccine summit in December 2020, DeSantis explained how he wanted to make the vaccine available to seniors and healthcare workers first. However, he didn’t acknowledge until April 2021 that he had received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
In July 2021, DeSantis continued to advocate for vaccines, saying, "If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero. If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95 percent of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. And so these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality."
Still, in September 2021, DeSantis appointed a new state surgeon general who said, "Vaccines are up to the person; there’s nothing special about them compared to any other preventive measure."
Two months later, DeSantis signed a bill banning vaccine mandates.
Then in August 2022, DeSantis criticized Fauci's ubiquitous TV presence and lockdowns, saying, "I’m just sick of seeing him. ... Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac."
DeSantis also said this past March that, unlike Trump, he would have fired somebody like Fauci.
"I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage," the governor also said.
Scott's campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.