Congressional Republicans are divided over how to use information from a new COVID-19 lab leak report to their advantage in investigating China and President Joe Biden.
The new report from the Energy Department concluded that the virus stemmed from natural transmission but was leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China — a theory long debated since the start of the pandemic and now has Congress split on how to handle the reports.
Some GOP lawmakers are taking a China-focused approach, hoping the new report will breathe life into legislation that failed to gain traction last year. Plans included setting up a nonpartisan committee to study the coronavirus origin, declassifying intelligence relating to the pandemic, and restricting data sharing with Chinese scientists, per Politico.
The Energy Department report stated that four other agencies believe COVID-19 stemmed from natural transmission, while two agencies, including the CIA, have not reached a full conclusion. The Energy Department and the FBI reached similar conclusions about the origin of the pandemic.
“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” Director Christopher Wray told Fox News host Bret Baier Tuesday. “Here we’re talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab that killed millions of Americans.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) said to Politico that the Energy Department report could be a “breakthrough” for his legislation to declassify intelligence around the virus’s origin.
“I’m guessing this is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on this issue,” Braun said. “It’s going to cascade.”
On the other hand, some Republicans see the lab leak report as a green light to investigate the White House further, a promise that House GOP lawmakers made upon achieving the majority in the 2022 midterm elections. Some hope to receive classified briefings on what they knew about the virus’s origins and when, as well as what led to the latest agency assessment.
The new COVID-19 lab leak information “reinforces the vigilance we’re going to have to have vis a vis China on just about every front,” Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) said to Politico. “It takes a little time to get momentum, but you’re going to see a lot of fresh China-countering policies from this Congress.”
However, Congressional Republicans are warning against focusing too much on the origin of COVID-19 and less on the current threats at hand, most recently the presence of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon entering U.S. airspace. Beijing leaders said the balloon was not part of their intelligence program but rather intended to gather meteorological data.
“Most certainly, we can have additional hearings, but I think there are other priorities right now,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said. “We’ve got a war in Europe right now. We’ve got a new peer competitor in China right now that is growing faster than we are in terms of military capabilities. We’ve got challenges within our own country in terms of a huge debt that we really have to address.
“So, when we look at the pandemic and talk about assigning blame, I think most of us have already assigned it,” he continued.
In the future, Republicans hope to develop a China-COVID-19 strategy that will lead to discovering what happened in the past and creating new policies to protect against future threats.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), a member of the Oversight subcommittee on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said on Tuesday that he requested a classified briefing from the Energy Department but has yet to receive a response.
“I don’t think we’ve been given a straight story,” he said. “So obviously, when they came up with this observation, I wanted more information.”
Over a dozen hearings and legislation markups took place on Tuesday under the umbrella that the Biden administration has not effectively responded to the aggressive behavior from China. Members of the House committee on China held its first hearing on Tuesday, highlighting all of the multifaceted threats that Beijing poses to the United States, ranging from human rights and trade to military and geopolitical machinations.