Congressman Who Lost Parents to COVID-19 Speaks on Marjorie Taylor Greene's 'Shameful' Fauci Comments (Exclusive)

Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia tells PEOPLE about his now-viral decision to confront Greene after she refused to call Fauci a doctor

<p>Shutterstock; Kevin Dietsch/Getty</p> Reps. Robert Garcia and Marjorie Taylor Greene

Shutterstock; Kevin Dietsch/Getty

Reps. Robert Garcia and Marjorie Taylor Greene

California Rep. Robert Garcia is opening up about his now-viral exchange with Georgia's Marjorie Taylor Greene on June 3, after she made a point to address Dr. Anthony Fauci informally during a House hearing.

On Monday, Fauci, 83, was called by the House's COVID-19 subcommittee to testify about the government's response to the pandemic. Fauci explained to CNN that the hearing could have been an opportunity to find solutions on how to better react to future crises, but committee member Greene — who once compared coronavirus vaccinations to Nazi gas chambers — used it as an opportunity to lash out.

Insisting on calling the White House's former chief medical adviser "Mr. Fauci," Greene, 50, said, "Do you think that’s appropriate? Do the American people deserve to be abused like that, Mr. Fauci? Because you’re not ‘Dr.,’ you’re ‘Mr. Fauci’ ... No, I don’t need your answer.”

Related: Dr. Anthony Fauci's Esteemed Career in Photos

In Garcia's mind, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — who led the nation through a series of health crises from the AIDS epidemic to COVID-19 — deserved nothing but respect from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and his fiery response to his Republican colleague proved as much.

"Your 'so-called science' that the gentlewoman is referring to has saved millions of lives in this country and around the world, and I want to thank you for that," Garcia, 46, told Fauci in the hearing room, adding that it was "completely unacceptable" for Greene to deny the doctor his title. "I also think it's important to note that, in my opinion, you are an American hero and your team has done more to save lives than all 435 members of this body on both sides of the aisle."

"My mom was a health care worker during the pandemic," the first-term Democrat continued. "My mom died of COVID. My stepfather died of COVID. I lost both of my parents during the pandemic, so I take this very personally, especially when other members of this body who are tasked to be responsible and actually help the American people, attack medical professionals like you and across the world."

Related: Long Beach, Calif. Mayor Loses Mom & Stepdad to COVID-19 2 Weeks Apart: 'My Family is Just Broken'

He then displayed past comments from Greene that promoted conspiracy theories about the pandemic, including her calling the COVID-19 vaccine a "bioweapon" and attributing the virus's origin to the "Fauci-funded Wuhan lab."

<p>Courtesy of Robert Garcia</p> Robert Garcia at his mother and stepfather's wedding

Courtesy of Robert Garcia

Robert Garcia at his mother and stepfather's wedding

Two days after the viral hearing — which was even referenced during one of Jimmy Fallon's opening monologues — Garcia tells PEOPLE why he felt passionate about joining the Republican-led COVID-19 subcommittee, and why he decided to confront Greene in a public forum on Monday.

"For me, the pandemic was incredibly personal and difficult. Besides being mayor of a huge American city where we saw over 1,300 deaths and many more people sick, I lost two parents early to the pandemic before the vaccine was available," Garcia says.

"At the same time, it was a moment for us as a country to push back on misinformation and conspiracy theories and really focus on supporting our doctors and scientists," he continues. "My mom worked in a clinic almost her whole life. I grew up around nurses and doctors. I volunteered in a hospital when I was younger. I’ve always looked up to medical professionals, so that moment was an important moment."

Related: Robert Garcia, Congress' First Gay Immigrant, Is Becoming the Queer Role Model He Never Had (Exclusive)

<p>Courtesy of Robert Garcia</p> Robert Garcia with his mother

Courtesy of Robert Garcia

Robert Garcia with his mother

Garcia says he's grown frustrated that Greene has used her platform on the committee to discount the severity of COVID instead of discuss productive actions that can be taken.

“We should have been focused on how we can do better for the next pandemic because there will be a next pandemic," he says. "That hearing should have focused on questions like: Could we have done school closures in a better way? Could we have opened up businesses faster? Were there better ways of getting the vaccine to people when it was available?”

When Greene went out of her way to insult the witness — whom Garcia notes has served under multiple presidents from both parties — "I don't think I've ever been more angry in a hearing."

“I thought it was completely shameful and disrespectful," he says. "The decision by Republican leadership to put her on the committee shows you they were never really interested in facts or science but instead wanted to turn this into a clown show."

ANNA MONEYMAKER/POOL/AFP via Getty Dr. Anthony Fauci, who retired as director of the NIAID in 2022 after 38 years
ANNA MONEYMAKER/POOL/AFP via Getty Dr. Anthony Fauci, who retired as director of the NIAID in 2022 after 38 years

Last month, Greene made headlines for attacking the physical appearance of a Democratic lawmaker on the House Oversight Committee — which oversees the COVID-19 subcommittee — leading to an hour-long derailment from the issue at hand.

Related: House Hearing Spirals into Chaos After Marjorie Taylor Greene Insults Democrat's 'Fake Eyelashes': 'How Dare You?'

The mayhem began after Greene went off topic during a hearing about Attorney General Merrick Garland. In response, Texas Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a Democrat, asked Greene if she knew what the meeting was supposed to be about.

Greene then shot back at Crockett by insulting her "fake eyelashes," sparking a verbal brawl that saw Democratic lawmakers step in to defend their colleague and request that the comment be struck from the record.

Greene refused to apologize, and the Republican committee chair ultimately ruled that Greene did not violate any rules with her insult. Frustrated, Crockett asked the chair, "If someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody’s bleach blonde, bad-built, butch body, that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?”

Related: Rep. Jasmine Crockett Files to Trademark ‘Bleach Blonde Bad Built Butch Body’ After Clash with Marjorie Taylor Greene

Needless to say, House hearings during one of the most unproductive legislative sessions in history have been tense. And for freshman representatives like Garcia, it's been a jarring introduction to Capitol Hill.

“I still have a lot of confidence that we can do the right thing," he says of Congress' ability to spark meaningful change. But if you ask him, that requires fighting fire with fire in unprecedented moments of lost decorum.

"We have to push back on all the lies and all the conspiracy theories and work really hard to make sure we call them out every single time," he says. "That’s the most important thing — to call out the bulls--- every single time.”

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