Durbin Delivers Remarks Honoring Dr. Fauci as he Receives the Senator Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today delivered remarks honoring Dr. Anthony Fauci, this year’s recipient for the University of Illinois System’s Senator Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government.  During his remarks, Durbin praised Dr. Fauci for his many contributions to public health and medical research, his role as the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director, his role in ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic, for guiding the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic, and much more. 

Named for the former Illinois Senator, the Senator Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government is presented to a person whose public actions and contributions have demonstrated a deep understanding and respect for ethical behavior and standards in government.  Past recipients include former President Barack Obama, the late Senator Paul Simon, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and former Representative Liz Cheney.

Photos of the event can be found here and Durbin’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin Remarks Honoring Dr. Anthony Fauci

University of Illinois System’s Senator Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government

March 19, 2024

As prepared for delivery

President Killeen, Vice President Jones, staff of the outstanding Institute of Government and Public Affairs, Members of the Douglas family, including my dear friends, Senator Douglas’ daughter, Jean Douglas Bandler and her husband Ned Bandler.  Thank you all for being here today.

Exactly four years ago tomorrow, during those first, terrifying days of the pandemic, the man whom many would soon come to regard as “America’s doctor” was in the White House press room.  He was seated behind our then President, a man who, you may recall, had a few ideas of his own about the virus.  As the former President expounded on one of those theories, Dr. Fauci buried his face in his hand.  That brief gesture—the famous “Fauci Face Palm”—went viral instantly, with the words: “We are all Dr. Fauci.”

In truth, there is only one Dr. Anthony Fauci.  He is a deeply caring physician, a brilliant scientist, an extraordinary public servant, a humanitarian, and a patriot—whose work has helped save tens of millions of lives, in this nation and around the world.

It is an honor to join the University of Illinois System and the Institute of Government and Public Affairs in acknowledging the worthy recipient of this year’s Senator Paul Douglas Ethics in Government Award, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

I think it is very possible that some of us might not be here today were it not for the skill and sacrifice of Dr. Fauci and the thousands of scientists at the National Institutes of Health and NIAID, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  That includes the many talented researchers working in University of Illinois labs, with support from NIAID and NIH.

And I know that I would not be here were it not for Senator Paul Douglas.  His example remains a guiding star for me.  I often think of his admonition about public spending.  [He said] “You don’t have to be a wastrel to be a liberal.”  What he meant was: If you truly believe that government can be a force for good, you can’t waste public funds on frivolities.  You must invest in endeavors that will make life better for the greatest number of people.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no wiser investment America can make than in medical research.  That is why, in 2014, I put together a proposal to provide NIH—along with other federal medical research agencies—with a funding increase of five percent, real growth, year after year.  I was able to convince Republican Senators Roy Blunt and Lamar Alexander, as well as Democratic Senator Patty Murray, to join me in this endeavor.  I’m pleased to say that since introducing that proposal in 2014, Congress has increased NIH’s annual budget by more than $17 billion—from $30 billion to $48 billion, a nearly 60 percent increase.

One of the discoveries those public dollars supported was research into a theory that many regarded at the time as a long shot—the idea that “messenger RNA” could be altered to tame and even kill deadly viruses.  That revolutionary theory yielded the knowledge that enabled researchers at NIH to develop an astonishingly effective COVID vaccine in just 11 months—a process that previously would have taken years.  It is estimated that mRNA COVID vaccines saved 3.2 million lives in the U.S. alone and prevented more than 18 million hospitalizations.

During the pandemic, Dr. Fauci routinely worked 20-hour days, seven days a week.  He also served on the President’s Task Force on Coronavirus.  And, until the last few months of the crisis, he continued to treat patients two or three days a week at NIH.

The COVID pandemic was not the first time Dr. Fauci battled a deadly virus.  In 1971, he left a lucrative job as chief resident at the New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center to join NIH as a senior medical researcher.  His first research targets were neglected and often fatal autoimmune diseases—work that many other researchers considered hopeless.  He discovered new treatments that gave patients a real chance at a healthy life.

In his 54 years at NIH, he advised seven presidents.  He helped lead America through crises including SARS, MERS, Zika, West Nile, Ebola, and the post-9/11 anthrax and bioterrorism scares.  I think he may hold the record for the most number of times testifying before Congress.

In 1980, he read for the first time about a mysterious new disease that was killing mostly young and apparently gay men – and he changed the focus of his lab to AIDS research.  Three years later, after being appointed NIAID’s youngest-ever director, he became a lightning-rod for criticism from AIDS activists who believed the U.S. government wasn’t moving fast enough on AIDS.  Dr. Fauci listened to these critics—and decided they were right.  He created an AIDS division at NIAID, cut through red tape to get promising treatments to AIDS patients, and he appointed people who were dying of AIDS to serve on panels that helped set NIH’s research priorities.  This work—led by Dr. Fauci—helped transform HIV from a death sentence to a chronic, manageable disease. 

And his decision to give people suffering from disease a seat at the tables where research priorities are set changed the nature of research into breast cancer and many other conditions.

In 2003, he helped persuade President George W. Bush to create PEPFAR—the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—to provide anti-retroviral drugs to combat AIDS in poor nations, especially in Africa.

PEPFAR remains the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history.  It has saved, by some estimates, 17 million lives—a near-miracle for which I give Dr. Fauci, and former President Bush, great credit.

It was during the COVID crisis that Dr. Fauci encountered one of the most baffling and deadly viruses of his career:  A virus of deliberate deceit and disinformation.  Political opportunists and conspiracy theorists tried to smear Dr. Fauci and turn lifesaving vaccines into a political litmus test.  The anger directed at Dr. Fauci—and his family—forced him to live under 24-hour security.  But it did not deter him.

For his 54 years of exemplary service to science and the public good, Dr. Fauci has received countless awards and accolades.  I suspect that one of the most meaningful of those tributes may be a phenomenon some have dubbed “The Fauci Factor:” a marked increase—since the pandemic—in medical students saying that they want to spend at least part of their careers as public health researchers.

For his contributions to science and public health and his defense of science and truth, Dr Fauci well deserves this prestigious award, as well as the world’s respect and gratitude.  He certainly has mine.