Dems Supports Growing Calls to Congress to Probe Covid Lab Leak Theory

“As we analyze what went wrong and what we can do in the future, we must also have answers to these questions,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Member of the Senate Committee on health. “And I think you’re going to see Congress address some of these issues as well. We have to get to the bottom of it. “

The talks, which focus on the Senate intelligence and health committees, are likely to put pressure on the White House to address the building’s frustration with its broader strategy in China. Hawks in Congress, along with former Trump administration officials, say the administration is moving too slowly in implementing a clear policy for dealing with China. For the first time, Democrats are ready to accept their argument that the Biden administration must exert diplomatic pressure on Beijing to release data from the Wuhan lab.

Senior officials in the Biden administration have repeatedly said that any investigation into the origins of the virus should be conducted by an independent international group such as the World Health Organization. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was the latest to push the argument in a speech Tuesday ahead of a WHO ministerial meeting. But the WHO’s first investigative attempt – which culminated in a report in March that the laboratory leak theory was “extremely unlikely” – was blocked because China would not share key data and records of the laboratory.

President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he had called on US intelligence agencies to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion” on the origins of Covid-19 and to make report in 90 days. He added that a preliminary report by US intelligence agencies earlier this month “hinged around two probable scenarios,” a laboratory accident or human contact with an infected animal.

“I asked for additional areas of investigation that might be needed, including questions specific to China. I also requested that this effort include the work of our national laboratories and other agencies of our government to increase the efforts of the intelligence community, ”Biden said in the statement. “And I have asked the intelligence community to keep Congress fully informed of its work.”

The president also said the United States would continue to work with other countries “to pressure China to participate in a full, transparent and evidence-based international investigation.”

Those who pushed for the Biden administration to sign a U.S. point of inquiry into the Wall Street Journal article – and a recent letter from 18 prominent scientists calling for further investigation – as evidence that the investigation of the WHO has not sufficiently taken into account the theory of laboratory leaks. But there are limits to what Congress can do, especially when it comes to the internal affairs of a foreign country. Lawmakers are unlikely to obtain new intelligence or evidence from China, but they can seek intelligence documents and reports from the executive branch.

“It was the Chinese Communist Party which was not transparent and which allowed a deeper understanding,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Deputy Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “They interfered with the World Health Organization investigation. They haven’t been transparent from the very beginning.

In January, the Trump administration released a backgrounder indicating that several researchers at the Wuhan institute fell ill with symptoms similar to Covid-19 in November 2019, that the lab was researching a bald coronavirus. -mouse which is the closest known relative of SARS-CoV-2, and which the institute has collaborated with the Chinese military.

“We were late until the end of the administration, and in the last few days Washington has focused on the events of January 6. So we were limited in time and political attention, ”said David Feith, former deputy assistant secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs under former President Donald Trump, referring to the administration’s efforts to make public the information she had gathered about the Wuhan lab. “Now the folks at Biden have had several months to think about this, and I hope they decide to release more information, work with allies, and pressure Beijing with more energy. I fear they are not doing enough. “

Administration officials believe any investigation would have a better chance of succeeding if led by an outside organization such as the WHO, which would allow countries to collectively pressure Beijing to cooperate, these officials said. sources.

“We are and have called on several occasions to [World Health Organization] to support an expert-led assessment of the origins of the pandemic, without interference or politicization, ”White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

People who want the administration to take care of the investigation itself say the United States has more resources and diplomatic power than the WHO – which cannot sanction its members – and that the government should tap into its intelligence apparatus to investigate the matter further.

It’s unclear how Biden’s intelligence community is handling the issue. In April, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers at a hearing on global threats that the intelligence community did not know “exactly where, when and how the Covid-19 virus was initially transmitted” .

“The Biden administration has been very blunt in saying that both theories are at play. But it’s very difficult to investigate and it gets harder and harder over time,” said Andy Weber, former deputy secretary of government. defense for the biodefense of President Barack Obama and member of the Council on Strategic Risks. “The intelligence community has never really considered this type of collection to be a priority. The big question is does the Chinese government know the answer to this question? Do they have the blood samples from these lab researchers? They could do their own analysis. Did they do this?

Kaine said the Senate Aid Committee, which has jurisdiction over public health matters, is “interested in considering [the] overview of what went wrong and how we can prepare for the next ‘pandemic’. “Understanding the origin and whether there has been any harmful activity in China is part of that,” Kaine added.

Group chairperson Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Declined to comment specifically on the lab leak theory, but said, “We’re exploring what we’re going to do.” The Senate Intelligence Committee is already looking at the scenario.

“The health committee wants to know the origin of Covid-19. It was not triggered by a press report. No one knows the validity of the press report, ”said Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.), the top Republican on the health panel and a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, in a brief interview.

“But I think it’s absolutely critical that we understand what we can about the origin – and opinions on that are split 50-50 right now,” Burr added. He noted that the Intelligence Committee would focus on the “cause”, while the HELP Committee would consider a potential “solution”.

Republicans have long pushed the theory of lab leaks, often drawing the contempt of Democrats. But GOP lawmakers say their concerns have been validated in light of the Wall Street Journal story. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), The leading Republican on the House Select Committee on Covid-19, called the group’s chairman, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn ( DS.C.), to open an investigation into the origins of the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment on Scalise’s request, but noted that the home science committee intended to continue a similar investigation. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are also investigating the matter.

If the United States were to conclude that the virus came from a lab and the Chinese government was hiding it from the rest of the world, there would be “devastating consequences” for U.S.-China relations, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn .) said in an interview.

But the United States may never know for sure – or may never know. Some senators are skeptical about whether a congressional investigation could crack the code; and Democrats in particular saw Republicans’ obsession with the laboratory leak theory as a way to distract from Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

“Sometimes we think we’ve solved a problem by launching an investigation. You may never have the information you need to know the source of this virus, ”Murphy said. “And while this question is really important, there are other really important questions about why the United States has not come up with an adequate response that we must also address.”

Apart from an investigation, Congress is already softening its purse strings on the issue. Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously passed a measure by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) that would ban U.S. funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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