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House clears COVID-19 intelligence measure

Bill that would declassify information related to virus' origins won bipartisan backing

Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, shown here in December, spoke in favor of the measure before House passage.
Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, shown here in December, spoke in favor of the measure before House passage. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A little more than a week after the Senate passed it by unanimous consent, the House on Friday sent to the president legislation that would declassify information related to the origin of COVID-19.

The bill, which passed the House 419-0, would require the director of national intelligence to declassify any information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China and the origin of the virus, which has killed millions of people across the world. 

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been at the center of a theory that the virus originated from a lab leak, with some members of the intelligence community finding that theory possible, while others insist the likeliest culprit is animal-to-human transmission.

“The American public deserves answers to every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how this virus was created and specifically, whether it was a natural occurrence or was the result of a lab related event,” said Republican Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., called on Biden to sign the bill.  “Americans deserve to know the truth about COVID’s origins so we can hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable and ensure something like this never happens again,” he said.

The bill would require Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify the information within 90 days of passage, including any information related to activities at the institute performed with or on behalf of the Chinese military, information about coronavirus-related research at the facility before the pandemic and researchers who became ill in the fall of 2019. 

Democrats also supported the bill, with Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., the ranking member of the intelligence panel, highlighting the divisions in the intelligence community on the origins of the virus. 

In late February, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of Energy found with “low confidence” that evidence favors the theory that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab. 

But others in the community have said with low confidence the virus was most likely caused by natural exposure to an infected animal.

“The intelligence community remains focused on this question, and I hope that we will have a breakthrough that will allow us to answer these questions once and for all,” Himes said. “But today, we’re not there yet. I believe that the IC [intelligence community] should make as much public as they can, consistent with the overriding need to protect sources and methods.”

Mark Burnett contributed to this report.

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