Monday, March 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

White House mum on Covid-19 origins bill awaiting Biden’s signature

The measure would direct the U.S. intelligence chief to report on whether the novel coronavirus could have sprang from a Chinese research lab.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Congress put their unanimous support Friday behind a resolution that directs the intelligence community to publicly share what it knows about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the White House offered little insight this afternoon about whether President Joe Biden will sign the measure.

The legislation passed the Senate on March 1 and headed to the president’s desk after the House cleared it in a 419-0 vote Friday morning.

“We are taking a look at the bill,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “[President Biden] understands how important it is to get to the bottom of Covid's origins. We will continue to use every tool to figure out what happened here, while also protecting classified information.”

Pressed on why the president would be hesitant to sign legislation with unanimous support from Congress, Jean-Pierre responded that it was Biden’s prerogative.

“It is the right of the president of the United States to look at the legislation that is coming before him,” the press secretary said.

Jean-Pierre added that President Biden had, after taking office, already directed the intelligence community to declassify information related to the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sponsored by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, the proposed legislation would require Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify all information related to the origins of Covid-19.

In particular, the bill requests anything the intelligence community has dug up related to potential links between the virus's outbreak in China in late 2019 and coronavirus research being conducted around the same time at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Intelligence officials would also have to share what they knew about researchers at the Hubei Province, China, laboratory who got sick in autumn 2019 — including information about symptoms and whether those affected employees were working with coronavirus samples.

If made law, the measure directs Haines to submit a report to Congress within three months — around 90 days.

Hawley urged urged the president to approve the bill. “Sign it,” he tweeted Friday.

Three years into the pandemic that sickened and killed millions globally, its origins remain unclear.

The prevailing theory among many scientists and medical professionals is that the disease made the jump from an animal to humans at a wet market in Wuhan, China, but a competing explanation claims that Covid-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

That theory gained steam in recent weeks as news broke that the Department of Energy had assessed in its own study, albeit with low confidence, that the pandemic originated as a laboratory leak.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.