Republicans seek vindication amid reemergence of Wuhan lab theory
Congressional Republicans are seizing on recent comments from health officials and top scientists about the origins of the coronavirus as vindication of their previous claims, and are demanding Democrats launch investigations.
Top Republicans, including former President Trump, blamed China for the emergence of the virus in 2020, but early reports about the possibility that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan, China, lab were dismissed.
Recently, some top public health officials, including White House medical adviser and top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, have suggested that COVID-19 could have originated there.
A lack of transparency from China, coupled with increasing awareness of the activities in the Wuhan lab have led some scientists who were initially dismissive of the possibility of a lab leak to change their tone.
“Many of us feel that it is more likely this is a natural occurrence, but we don’t know 100 percent the answer to that,” Fauci said Tuesday. “Because we don’t know 100 percent what the origin is, it’s imperative that we look and we do an investigation.”
Trump on Tuesday claimed vindication for his assertion that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab.
“Now everybody is agreeing that I was right when I very early on called Wuhan as the source of COVID-19, sometimes referred to as the China Virus,” Trump said in a statement.
GOP members of Congress have also continued to press for answers on both the international and domestic fronts.
“The lab-leak hypothesis was always reasonable, but reporters & activists in white lab coats nonetheless spent the better part of a year denouncing it as a ‘conspiracy theory,’” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) tweeted late Monday. “They were wrong. But that’s not what’s most important now. What’s important is truth & accountability.”
Minority leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been conducting their own investigation since March, focusing their efforts across the Biden administration.
“There’s a lot of circumstantial clues that point to a laboratory accident,” the committee’s top Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) said Tuesday on Fox News.
“We’re pushing for more information from NIH [the National Institutes of Health], the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security … this is a matter of public health, this is a matter of biosecurity, and we’re not going to leave any stone unturned until we get some answers,” she said.
On Monday, Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the GOP Whip and ranking member of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, pressed Democratic leaders of the committee “to hold the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accountable for its role in causing the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
In a joint letter with Rep. James Comer (Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, the lawmakers said both committees are uniquely positioned to find the truth.
“In short, there is evidence the CCP started the pandemic, covered it up, and is responsible for the deaths of almost 600,000 Americans and millions more worldwide,” Scalise and Comer wrote.
Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), a member of the coronavirus subcommittee, last week said he would hold a hearing on the virus’s origins.
“I can assure you that our hearings will be a rational discussion among scientists, rather than a blizzard of semi-informed talking points designed for social media,” Foster said.
But Foster is chairman of the Science and Technology oversight subcommittee, which is not the venue Republicans want.
The White House on Tuesday reiterated that it thinks the World Health Organization should take the lead on a subsequent investigation, despite concerns that the agency is too reliant on international cooperation.
The Chinese government won’t easily allow more access to the Wuhan lab, and some think the Biden administration should be the ones to press it into doing so.
Still, top U.S. public health officials and experts are increasingly lending credibility to the need for a deeper investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, but concerns remain that politics could cloud any conclusions, and even result in a backlash against further public health research.
“The politicians ought to step back and let the people that do this for a living, you know, the scientists and the experts, figure out what happened,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
“We’re in a very highly charged politicized environment, but that doesn’t do anybody any good … I think everybody needs to keep your powder dry until we know what happens, and that only happens by doing an honest, thoughtful investigation. And the only way to get it right is for the politician to not politicize it,” Benjamin added.
A concern among some public health experts is that Republicans are calling for two investigative tracks that both indicate the virus was manufactured in a lab — one focused on the role of China, and the other focused on the role of U.S. agencies in potentially funding the research in the Wuhan lab that led to the creation of a “superbug.”
“The world deserves to know and needs to know where and how it started. The preponderance of evidence suggests it leaked from a lab in wuhan. COVID-19 is truly a supervirus, the product of lab manipulation,” Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
But experts and officials have noted that even if the virus escaped from a lab, that doesn’t mean it was manufactured in one.
Fauci and NIH Director Francis Collins have pushed back on the notion that the NIH directly funded controversial “gain of function” research — when scientists make a virus more dangerous in order to study it — at the Wuhan lab.
“They were not approved by NIH to do gain-of-function research,” Collins said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday.
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