House votes 419-0 to declassify intelligence on COVID-19 origins, sending bill to Biden's desk
Washington — The House voted unanimously Friday on a bill ordering the declassification of intelligence about the origins of COVID-19 in China, sending the bill to President Biden's desk.
The bill, which already passed the Senate, would require Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify any information about links between the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the controversial viral research laboratory in the city where the SARS-CoV-2 virus first emerged. The vote in the House was 419 to 0.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not directly answer whether the president would sign the legislation, saying, "We're taking a look at the bill."
The intelligence community has not definitively agreed on the origins of the pandemic. A report in 2021 reflecting the findings of intelligence community was inconclusive, and determined two theories were "plausible" to explain how the virus emerged: "natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident." The Department of Energy recently concluded, with "low confidence," that it was plausible that the virus originated from a lab, a theory supported by the FBI.
The Senate passed the GOP-crafted bill by unanimous consent last week. The bill was introduced by GOP Sens. Josh Hawley and Mike Braun.
The issue of the origin of the coronavirus has become fiercely politicized on Capitol Hill, with many Republicans using the increased consideration of the lab leak theory to criticize Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for his support of the theory that the virus emerged in a Wuhan market where live animals were sold.
"Now the American people will be able to see what their government knows about COVID origins — and those who lied about it can be held accountable," Hawley tweeted after the bill passed Friday. "Next stop for my COVID origins bill, Joe Biden's desk. Sign it."
Democrats also expressed support for releasing information related to origins of the leak, as evidenced by their lack of objections in the House and Senate.
"Understanding the root causes of the COVID-19 pandemic is important to help prevent a future pandemic," Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz, a doctor and ranking member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, said in a statement after the bill's passage. "Under President Biden's direction and leadership, the intelligence community has been hard at work gathering information to answer the question of whether COVID-19 started as a lab leak or animal transmission. The evidence, as of today, is inconclusive. It is important that the American people have as much objective information as possible without extreme partisan rhetoric."
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