Support is increasing among Democrats for an investigation of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Politico reported on Wednesday.
The theory that the virus leaked from a Wuhan lab, previously dismissed by Democrats as a Republican talking point, has been given renewed consideration after The Wall Street Journal reported that three scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were sent to the hospital in November 2019 after developing symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 a short time before the virus spread throughout China.
“As we analyze what went wrong and what we can do in the future, we have to have answers to these questions, too,” said Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate’s health committee. “And I think you’re going to see Congress addressing some of these matters as well. We’ve got to get to the bottom of it.”
The increase in support for an inquiry is also likely to boost pressure on the White House to address lawmakers' frustration with the Biden administration's broader China strategy. Congressional hawks say the president is moving too slow in articulating a clear policy for dealing with Beijing, according to Politico.
Senior Biden administration officials have repeatedly said that any investigation of the origins of the virus should be led by an independent, international group such as the World Health Organization, but a WHO report issued in March said the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely.”
The investigation, though, was stymied because China would not share key lab records and data.
President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that he had asked U.S. intelligence agencies to "redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion" on the origins of COVID-19 and to report back in 90 days.
Biden also stressed that the U.S. would continue working with other countries "to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation."
Andy Weber, senior fellow at the Council on Strategic Risks and a former assistant secretary of defense for biodefense under President Barack Obama, told Politico that the administration "has been very forthright in saying that [different] theories are in play. But it’s very hard to investigate and it gets harder over time. The intelligence community has never really considered this kind of collection a priority. The big question is does the government of China know the answer to this question? Do they have the blood samples from those lab researchers?”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) acknowledged that there would be “devastating consequences” for the U.S.-China relationship were the U.S. to conclude that the virus originated in a lab and that Beijing was concealing it from the rest of the world.
However, many Democrats view Republicans’ obsession with the lab leak theory as a way to distract from Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic while he was president.
“Sometimes we think we’ve solved a problem by empaneling an inquiry. You may never have the information necessary to know the source of this virus,” Murphy said. “And while that question is really important, there are other really important questions about why the United States didn’t stand up an adequate response that we need to deal with as well.”
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