Top House Democrats voted against a Republican-led effort to compel the World Health Organization to conduct a "transparent investigation on the origins of COVID-19."
All but one of the 33 Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee voted down an amendment introduced by Rep. Ben Cline (R., Va.), which would have withheld U.S. funding to the WHO "until the Secretary of State certifies that the WHO has conducted a transparent investigation on the origins of COVID-19 and implemented regulatory changes to improve transparency and international cooperation."
The vote came as GOP lawmakers expressed serious concerns over a WHO investigation into COVID-19's origins. Chinese officials delayed the study for months and secured veto rights over its participants, according to the Wall Street Journal. After completing the probe, the WHO initially suggested that a follow-up study was unnecessary, and while the agency went on to reverse course, China on Thursday rejected its plan for a second investigation. The Trump administration in May 2020 decided to leave the WHO over its "China-centric" virus response, but President Joe Biden halted the withdrawal in January.
Rep. Ashley Hinson (R., Iowa), who voted in favor of the provision, called the accountability push "necessary to prevent another pandemic from reaching our shores at the hands of the CCP and due to the WHO's negligence."
"We should not send taxpayer dollars to the WHO until they have completed a transparent and comprehensive investigation into the origin and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the role of the Chinese Communist Party, and implement changes to stop future pandemics," Hinson told the Washington Free Beacon.
Democrats' refusal to tie WHO funding to a thorough and forthright probe into the virus's origins could also become a political liability. Just 8 percent of Americans think the federal government should refrain from probing the issue, according to a June Morning Consult poll. Multiple Democrats who voted against Cline's amendment, including Reps. Matt Cartwright (Pa.), Susie Lee (Nev.), Josh Harder (Calif.), and Lauren Underwood (Ill.), are top GOP targets in 2022.
Cartwright, Lee, Harder, and Underwood did not return requests for comment.
The WHO's plan for a second origin-tracing probe includes additional investigation into the theory that the virus leaked from a Wuhan virology lab. After the WHO's first probe found that a lab leak was highly unlikely, agency head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus conceded making a "premature push" to rule out the theory. In response, Chinese officials said the WHO's updated plan showed "disrespect for common sense and arrogance toward science," refusing to participate in the investigation.
In addition to Cline's amendment, committee Democrats rejected a GOP measure aimed at declassifying "certain information related to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of the Coronavirus Disease 2019."
While Democratic politicians, mainstream media outlets, and top scientists—including Dr. Anthony Fauci—dismissed a potential lab leak as a racist "conspiracy theory" during the Trump administration, Biden has since come around to the possibility. The president in May said his administration had "coalesced around two scenarios" regarding the virus's origins, including one possibility that the pandemic started in a Wuhan lab.
"At the time, it was scarier to be associated with Trump and to become a tool for racists, so people didn't want to publicly call for an investigation into lab origins," MIT and Harvard postdoctoral associate Alina Chan told NBC News in June.
The White House on Thursday slammed China for its "irresponsible and frankly dangerous" rejection of the WHO's investigation plan. The firm rhetoric came after a June Fox News poll found that 54 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden's handling of China.
Rep. Andy Harris (R., Md.), whose amendment to push back on China's oppressive treatment of women was also rejected by Democrats, told the Free Beacon that the Democrats' recent track record shows that they don't take the threat posed by China seriously.
"It's both puzzling and beyond frustrating that the Democratic majority was opposed to my amendment and others attempting to rein in Chinese influence and policies, as well as to determine CCP accountability for the COVID-19 outbreak," Harris said. "Our amendments were common sense, and to vote them down on near party-line votes just goes to show how lightly congressional Democrats take the very real threat that China poses now and in the future."