President Joe Biden on Monday signed a bill that requires Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify information related to the origins of COVID-19, the White House said.
Biden said he shared Congress' goal of releasing as much information as possible about the origin of COVID-19. However, he said his administration would keep national security in mind when deciding what to release.
"In implementing this legislation, my administration will declassify and share as much of that information as possible, consistent with my constitutional authority to protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national security," Biden said in a statement.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and House of Representatives before being sent to the White House.
Washington has been conducting a highly politicized debate about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic almost since the first human cases were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, amid calls from both Biden's fellow Democrats and Republicans to push back harder against a rising China.
The debate was refueled last month, when the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Energy Department had assessed with low confidence that the pandemic likely arose from a Chinese laboratory leak, an assessment Beijing denies.
However, there has not been a definitive conclusion from the U.S. Intelligence Community on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the conservative side of the debate, lawmakers have accused the White House of protecting China from accusations of a deliberate lab leak, pushing an alternate theory of an escape from a Chinese wet market to the exclusion of the lab possibility, and abusing the pandemic to impose overly restrictive lockdown and mask rules.
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