US House unanimously supports declassification of Covid origin information

US House unanimously supports declassification of Covid origin information

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on Friday to require Director of National Intelligence Avril Haynes to release information about the origins of COVID-19, increasing pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration to allow its release.

The vote in favor was 419 to 0. Since the Senate passed the bill on March 1 — by unanimous consent — it now goes to the White House for Biden to sign into law or veto.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his intentions.

Washington has been navigating a highly politicized debate over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic since the first human case was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, amid growing calls from both Democrats and Republicans to get tougher on China.

The controversy reignited last month, when the Wall Street Journal first reported that the US Energy Department had concluded that the pandemic likely stemmed from a Chinese laboratory leak, an assessment Beijing denies.

The department made its ruling “with little confidence” in a classified intelligence report, the Journal said. Four other US agencies still judge that COVID-19 was likely the result of natural transmission, while two are undecided.

Biden administration officials have said the source of the pandemic will never be known. China has said there is no credibility to the possibility that the pandemic was caused by a laboratory leak.

“Does the American public need to know all aspects of how this virus was created, and especially that it was a natural phenomenon resulting from a lab-related incident?” Representative Mike Turner, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he urged support for the measure.

Representative Jim Himes, the panel’s top Democrat, called the bill an important first step “I hope it clears up some of the speculation, some of the rumours,” he said.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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