Congress votes unanimously to require declassified information on the origin of COVID-19
WASHINGTON — A divided 118th Congress approved its first bill Friday after lawmakers in both the House and Senate voted unanimously to send President Joe Biden legislation that would require declassifying intelligence about the origins of COVID-19.
The four-page bill, which the House of Representatives voted 419-0 to approve, would require the director of national intelligence to “declassify any and all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the 2019 coronavirus disease” within 90 days of entry into force.
This measure allows the director to edit any information that could jeopardize the sources and methods used by the intelligence community to collect information.
The Democratic-controlled Senate approved the bill unanimously earlier this month. It’s a fast track process that allows this house to pass bills if no senator objects.
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley introduced the bill, along with Indiana Senator Mike Brown, Kansas Senator Roger Marshall, Utah Senator Mike Lee, and Florida Senator Rick Scott as initial cosponsors. All Republicans.
Connecticut Democratic House Representative Jim Himes, a senior member of the House Standing Select Committee on Intelligence, said during a floor debate that determining how COVID-19 began was particularly difficult because of the Chinese government.
“The PRC government has obfuscated and obstructed legitimate investigations and investigations into the origin of the disease at every stage,” Hymes said. “China’s approach has been deeply irresponsible and dangerous to global public health.”
This is one of the reasons why Biden ordered the US intelligence community to look into the origins of the virus, Himes said, leading to the unclassified report in August 2021.
“In short, the intelligence services have not been able to agree on whether the virus originated from a laboratory accident or from natural exposure,” Himes said.
“Some individual agencies came to a judgment, a narrow judgment, about which path is more likely, but they couldn’t do it with a high degree of certainty — simply because we don’t have enough reliable information to draw such conclusions,” Hymes added.
Declassifying more details about the origins of COVID-19 could be “an antidote to the speculation, rumors and theories that grow in the absence of reliable information,” Himes said.
Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Standing Select Committee on Intelligence, said Americans deserve “answers to every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how this virus was created.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the country and nearly every family has felt the effects,” Turner said. “The U.S. death toll from this virus has surpassed 1 million.”
Turner said the intelligence committee is “aware of classified information that could help inform the public about why COVID-19 as a lab leak theory is not just possible, but approaches the idea that it is likely.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic held a hearing on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most lawmakers agreed that the scientific and intelligence communities should be left alone to determine the origin of the virus.
While there is still no consensus on the origin of COVID-19, experts who testified before the panel said researchers are working to determine if it was a natural event or if the virus was accidentally leaked from a lab.
Congress passed a joint resolution earlier this week to block a restructuring of the D.C. criminal code approved by the city government.
While the joint resolution passed through Congress much like a bill and is expected to get Biden’s signature to go into effect, it’s not technically a bill. This makes the COVID-19 bill the first piece of legislation passed by a divided Congress this year.
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