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Lab leak? Why Congress is split on investigating COVID’s origins.


A year and a half into a pandemic that is blamed for the deaths of more than 3 million people, a Chinese lab in Wuhan is under growing scrutiny for a possible connection to the outbreak of COVID-19. On May 26, President Joe Biden called on the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” to collect and analyze any information that could shed light on how the pandemic started. 

Republican lawmakers, who have raised questions since early 2020 about the virus’s origins and China’s lack of transparency, are making a renewed push for bipartisan investigations in Congress. 

Why We Wrote This

Both sides say it’s important to get the truth of how the pandemic started. Republicans want Congress to investigate the lab leak theory, which has gained new credence. But Democrats are wary of a politicized process.

“This is about us as a country, the United States of America, getting answers,” says Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the lead Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “We really need an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

But while Democrats say they, too, want to discover the truth, they’re concerned that congressional investigations will just be politicized – especially since the most important answers are likely only obtainable from China.

“We support [the intelligence community’s] efforts to conduct a thorough, objective, evidence-based investigation, without letting anyone’s preferred narrative shape that vital work,” says an official on the Democratic-controlled House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee.

Washington

A year and a half into a worldwide pandemic that is blamed for the deaths of more than 3 million people, a Chinese lab in Wuhan is under growing scrutiny for a possible connection to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Republican members of Congress, who have raised questions since early 2020 about China’s lack of transparency about the virus’s origins, are making a renewed push for bipartisan investigations. But with Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate, any congressional inquiries launched without their support will lack subpoena power and authority to compel witnesses to testify. Without those powers, GOP members of Congress are making little headway.

Just ask Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the lead Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has been pressing for answers from various agencies.

Why We Wrote This

Both sides say it’s important to get the truth of how the pandemic started. Republicans want Congress to investigate the lab leak theory, which has gained new credence. But Democrats are wary of a politicized process.

On March 18, she and two GOP colleagues sent the National Institute of Health (NIH) 29 questions requesting information and related documents about how COVID-19 started and whether U.S. taxpayer funds supported research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

Two months later, the NIH responded with a two-page letter, defending its grant process and briefly describing the nature of a 2014 grant to the Wuhan lab. It expressed support for continuing investigation into COVID-19’s origins and offered to discuss the grant further in person, but did not provide any of the documents requested, including standard grant paperwork that could have shed light on the Wuhan lab’s research. 





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