House Republicans aggressively focused on the theory that COVID-19 likely originated from a research lab in China during Wednesday’s initial hearing of the e panel investigating the pandemic’s origins.
Witnesses for the majority, including former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert Redfield, said they think the evidence strongly supports a lab leak, but it’s not definitive.
“Based on my initial analysis of the data, I came to believe and I still believe today that it indicates that COVID-19 more likely was a result of an accidental lab leak than the result of a natural spillover event,” Redfield told the committee. “This conclusion is based primarily on the biology of the virus itself.”
An assessment from the Department of Energy saying a lab leak was the likely origin of COVID-19 has fed new oxygen into Republican calls for further investigations, though the conclusion was reportedly made with “low confidence.”
Further, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Fox News the agency “has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan.”
“There is no smoking gun proving a laboratory origin hypothesis, but the growing body of circumstantial evidence suggests a gun that is at very least warm to the touch,” said Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former State Department official.
Democrats and Republicans on the panel agreed there was a need to investigate the origin of the virus to better prepare for future pandemics. But lawmakers disagreed strongly on whether former Biden administration officials engaged in a cover-up to hide the virus’s origins.
“When you have a group of people that decide there can only be one point of view, that’s problematic,” Redfield said. “And I’ll keep going saying it’s antithetical to science, and unfortunately, that’s what they did.”
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, gave consideration to both the lab leak and the natural origins theories, but indicated a higher degree of interest in the former.
“I’d love for this thing to be from nature. I would love that. Because that would be better for all of us. But I can’t help but look at this and say there’s another possibility here,” Wenstrup said.
“For some reason that we do not yet know, leaders in the scientific community took action to attempt to convince the world that they should not take the lab leak theory seriously,” Wenstrup said, accusing Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Francis Collins, former director of the National Institute of Health, of promoting the natural origins theory over the lab leak.
Democrats on the panel concentrated on disarming the GOP’s fixation on the lab theory as well as discrediting GOP witness Nicholas Wade, a former editor of the journals Nature and Science, and former editor of the science section of The New York Times.
Wade’s book “A Troublesome Inheritance,” in which he argued separate races are genetically definable through certain traits, gained popularity among white supremacist figures, which Democrats repeatedly noted in their remarks, along with Wade’s lack of experience as a researcher or physician.
“I am a bit appalled that this hearing now gets layered over with the issue of race, in a very strong way with the presence of Mr. Wade,” Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), former president and CEO of the NAACP, said.
Democratic committee member Jamie Raskin (Md.) sought to shift blame for the confusion over COVID-19’s origins by recalling former President Trump’s remarks during the start of the pandemic.
“Whatever the origins of COVID-19, whether it is bats or bureaucrats, no finding will ever exonerate or rehabilitate Donald Trump for his lethal recklessness in mismanaging the crisis in America, which cost us more than a million lives,” said Raskin, further castigating Trump for his previous praises of China’s leadership.
In their closing statements, both Wenstrup and ranking member Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) both acknowledged that an answer to the question of COVID-19’s beginnings remained unclear.
The House on Friday is set to vote on a measure calling on the intelligence community to declassify all information relating to the origins of COVID-19. The measure already passed the Senate and is expected to pass in the GOP-controlled House.