After the House unanimously passed a bill that would declassify the U.S. intelligence information about the origins of Covid-19, President Joe Biden said he was unsure whether he would sign the bill.
“I haven’t made that decision yet,” Biden said on Friday when asked if he would sign the bill, which yielded a vote of 419-0 in the House. It had already been passed by the Senate—again, with no opposition.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre responded to reporters’ questions about Biden’s stance on the bill. After one reporter asked why he would linger on signing a bill that received no opposition in Congress, she replied: “It is the right of the President of the United States to look at the legislation that is going to be coming before him.”
She added, “We will continue to use every tool to figure out what happened here, while also protecting classified information. Again, we’re going to take a look at the bill. I just don’t have anything to share on how we’re going to move forward at this time.”
Biden’s irresolute response has sparked impatience, if not outrage, among a number of members of Congress.
“By passing this bipartisan bill, Congress has sent a clear message that it’s critical to provide full transparency regarding what is known about how this pandemic started, how taxpayer dollars may have been spent on risky research, and if labs performing such research are upholding the highest standards of safety,” a group of Republicans wrote in a statement after the vote.
“The President—should he consider vetoing—ought to consider the irreparable damage it will cause our ability to restore public trust in government,” the group said.
“The American public deserves answers to every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how this virus was created and specifically, whether it was a natural occurrence or was the result of a lab-related event,” said Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Indiana Sen. Mike Braun said, “President Biden now has a simple choice: sign this bipartisan bill and let the American people see the facts about the COVID lab leak to make up our own minds, or keep us in the dark in an attempt to control the narrative.”
“I believe that the IC [intelligence community] should make as much public as they can,” said Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. “Transparency is a critical element of our democracy. The factual grounding of the IC’s analysis can be an antidote to the speculation, the rumor and the theories that grow in the absence of good information.”
California Rep. Mark Garcia said, “This is a chance to hold China accountable for Covid and seek justice and a reckoning…This isn’t political at all. Declassifying this information is simply the right thing to do.”
The bill came into being shortly after the Energy Department made its conclusion that the virus originated from a lab leak—although the judgment was reached with “low confidence.” The Energy Department joins the FBI in this belief, while four other intelligence elements, as well as a national intelligence panel, said the virus resulted from natural transmission. Two other agencies are still undecided.