House lawmakers made it clear Friday that it’s time for the Biden administration to come clean on what it knows about COVID-19’s origin.
Republicans and Democrats voted unanimously – 419-0 – to require the Biden administration’s director of national intelligence to declassify all intelligence related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and possible links to the origins of the COVID-19 virus. That release would be required 90 days after the bill is signed into law.
The vote followed new assessments from the Department of Energy and the FBI that a lab leak in China was the most likely source of the pandemic that killed millions of people around the world. After those assessments were revealed, the Senate unanimously passed the GOP bill last week, and the House followed with its own unanimous vote a little more than a week later.
On the House floor, Republicans made it clear they believe the information that’s still classified points to the Wuhan lab as the source of COVID.
"The American public deserves answers to every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how this virus was created and specifically, whether it was a natural occurrence of was the result of a lab-related event," said House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio.
"The House intelligence committee, which oversees our intelligence community, is aware of classified information that could help inform the public why COVID-19 as a lab leak theory is not just a possibility, but approaches the idea that it is likely."
Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., said he believes Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, knew it came from the Wuhan lab and tried to cover it up.
"In January of 2020, Dr. Fauci received emails that promulgated that COVID-19 looked engineered and not from the wild," Murphy said. "Yet three weeks later, to save his own skin, he commissioned a scientific paper which ‘debunked’ the lab theory. He was academically and intellectually dishonest."
"The truth is that Dr. Fauci and his institution funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to promote dangerous gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology without proper guardrails," Murphy charged.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, said his view of the classified information he’s seen is that it’s still unclear where COVID came from, and noted that intelligence community agencies are still split on the question. He also dismissed Murphy’s theory by saying, "there’s not one iota of evidence for any of that."
"The chairman [Turner] and I have seen all of the classified information on this, and we don’t know," Himes said. "We don’t know the origins of the COVID pandemic. So whatever is ultimately declassified, I would hope that my colleagues and the American people would approach that information with the humility, the intellectual humility that we need to approach something as serious as a pandemic and how we behave as citizens in a democracy."
But Himes said he still believes it’s best to declassify all the information held by the government so people can make up their own minds. He said this step is particularly important given how reluctant China has been to assist the U.S. in its investigation – China publicly has continued to argue COVID may have come from a U.S. lab.
"At every juncture, the PRC government has obfuscated and obstructed legitimate inquiries and investigations into the origins of the disease," Himes said. "China’s approach has been deeply irresponsible and dangerous to global public health."
Passage of the bill by both the House and Senate sends the bill to President Biden, whose signature on the bill is now irrelevant – it becomes law if he signs it, and if he were to veto it, both chambers have shown they easily have the two-thirds vote necessary to override his veto.
The White House as of Friday morning had not released a statement on the bill, a sign Biden was likely to sign the bill.