The House is set to vote Friday on a bill that requires the Biden administration to declassify intelligence that shows a link between a virology lab in China and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill is part of growing momentum behind U.S. efforts to confirm that the virus, which has killed nearly 7 million people worldwide, slipped out of the lab in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the pandemic started.
The declassification legislation breezed through the Senate by unanimous consent this month and stands a good chance of reaching President Biden’s desk with the vote by the GOP-run House.
House Republicans have prioritized efforts to probe the pandemic’s origins.
The White House hasn’t said whether Mr. Biden will sign the measure.
“I won’t get ahead of the president’s decision-making,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a White House briefing last week.
The bill authored by Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, says there is “reason to believe” the virus that causes COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It requires the director of national intelligence to declassify and report to Congress any information about a link between the lab and the virus’s origins within 90 days.
The measure also says releasing evidence to the public will help the U.S. work with “like-minded countries” to identify the virus’s origins and takes steps to prevent future pandemics.
The virus was initially blamed on a wet market in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in 2019 before spreading around the globe in early 2020.
The lab-leak theory, which was initially discredited as disinformation by the political left, gained credence late in the Trump administration and was bolstered by evidence that some workers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized for flulike illness before the virus exploded across the city.
The Department of Energy recently concluded with “low confidence” the coronavirus pandemic most likely resulted from a laboratory leak in China.
Earlier, the FBI concluded with moderate confidence that a lab leak was responsible for the virus’ spread, while intelligence agencies have determined with low confidence the virus emerged from natural channels, according to a review that Mr. Biden ordered in 2021.
Lawmakers say the public should be able to get a glimpse at the evidence that agencies used to arrive at their conclusions, including details about coronavirus work at the Wuhan lab; any cooperation between lab workers and the Chinese military; and details on lab workers who got sick around the time of the first outbreak.
The bill says the director of national intelligence can make redactions but only to protect sources and methods.
Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Trump, told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Wednesday that is it more likely than not that the virus slipped from the lab.
He and other witnesses testified the virus had a distinct feature, or “furin cleavage site,” that allowed the pathogen to infect humans quite easily and was unusual for known coronaviruses, leading them to believe it was likely engineered in a lab.
They also pointed to efforts by the Chinese government to downplay early cases and cover up work at the Wuhan lab.
Beijing furiously rejects any attempt to link the start of the virus with the lab in Wuhan. Officials from the communist government sent Mr. Hawley a letter this week saying China “firmly opposes and strongly condemns” his bill.
“The Chinese government wrote to me and demanded I withdraw my COVID origins bill,” Mr. Hawley tweeted. “Hahaha. Not a chance.”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.