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Monday, Jun 17, 2024

Congress sends bill to Biden requiring his administration to declassify intelligence on COVID-19's origins

Congress sends bill to Biden requiring his administration to declassify intelligence on COVID-19's origins

Biden has not publicly said whether or not he'll support the bipartisan bill. Some lawmakers on Friday warned against a veto.
Congressional lawmakers ramped up pressure on President Joe Biden to declassify intelligence about the origins of COVID-19, sending a bill to his desk that would require his administration to do so.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved the bill, titled the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023, in a 419-0 vote on Friday. Every House Republican and Democrat present supported the legislation.

The Senate likewise unanimously passed the legislation, introduced by GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Braun of Indiana, last week.

"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 on Friday following the bill's passage.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in China more than three years ago, the origins of the disease have been theorized and debated, often sparking political feuds. Speculation has swirled that the virus transferred naturally from animals to humans or accidentally leaked from a lab in China. Without conclusive evidence, experts have been unable to reach consensus and determine where COVID-19 came from.

Republican lawmakers have vowed to investigate Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has said that known evidence shows it's likely that COVID-19 originated in nature; he has also said experts must keep an "open mind" about the possibility the virus leaked from a lab.

International investigators have been stymied by China's refusal to provide evidence from the earliest known coronavirus cases, and American intelligence agencies are split on determinations of which origin theory is more likely.

The bill comes after the US Energy Department recently concluded with "low confidence" that the pandemic was likely the result of a lab leak. FBI Director Christopher Wray also recently publicly endorsed the lab leak theory.

The bill would require the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, to declassify all information related to potential links between China's Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of COVID-19, including the lab's activities and research, any researchers who became sick, and the symptoms they experienced, and to submit a report to Congress with the information.

Biden has not publicly said whether or not he'll support the bipartisan bill. Some lawmakers on Friday warned against vetoing the legislation, which would be the first of Biden's presidency if he chooses to.

"Congress has sent a clear message that it's critical to provide full transparency regarding what is known about how this pandemic started, how taxpayer dollars may have been spent on risky research, and if labs performing such research are upholding the highest standards of safety," a group of Republicans said in a joint statement. "The president—should he consider vetoing—ought to consider the irreparable damage it will cause our ability to restore public trust in government."

Indeed, lawmakers could likely override a potential veto with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. A White House spokesperson did not immediately return Insider's request for comment.
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