The Democratic chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight subcommittee endorsed Republican members' calls for an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly into whether the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese research lab.
During a Wednesday hearing, Rep. Michael Burgess (R., Texas) urged subcommittee chair Rep. Diana DeGette (D., Colo.) to direct the investigative body to pursue an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. DeGette said she supports undertaking such an investigation, including into whether the virus emerged from a lab. She also said she is in agreement with the subcommittee's Republican leadership, who for months have called for answers on the pandemic's origin while Democrats and media outlets downplayed the likelihood of a lab leak.
"I agree, I think it's very important that we investigate ... particularly if the virus escaped from some lab because that of course has implications for international health," DeGette said. "I've already spoken to the ranking member [Rep. Morgan Griffith (R., Va.)]. Whatever we can do—I don't think China is going to produce any documents to this committee, but we're going to do whatever investigation is appropriate and Mr. Griffith and I are on the same page."
Democrats' newfound support for a thorough investigation of the pandemic's origin comes as an increasing number of health officials and agencies have lent credence to the lab leak theory—the notion that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers studied and engineered bat coronaviruses.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci largely ruled out the lab leak theory in May 2020, saying the evidence "very, very strongly" indicates the virus "could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated." But he changed his tune this month, saying he's now "not convinced" the virus emerged naturally. CDC director Rochelle Walensky also acknowledged this month that a lab leak origin of the coronavirus is a possibility.
Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) praised Democrats for supporting Republican efforts to investigate the virus's origin.
"The Energy and Commerce Committee will continue to lead and urge the Biden administration and the U.S. government to investigate, hold China accountable, and get information in the public domain for answers on how the COVID-19 pandemic started," McMorris Rodgers said. "We welcome and are encouraged by the bipartisan support within the committee to investigate if COVID-19 originated in a laboratory accident. We can't leave any stone unturned."
The Biden administration has voiced support for an investigation into the pandemic's origin, but critics say the administration's commitment to getting to the bottom of the story is not genuine. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday did not offer a concrete explanation for how the United States would investigate the pandemic, instead calling on the World Health Organization to "support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic's origins." A WHO mission to Wuhan in February dismissed the lab leak theory, but the team's findings were criticized by even the chief of the WHO. Chinese regime officials sat in on interviews the mission conducted with employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and the only American on the mission organized a letter in February 2020 calling the lab leak hypothesis a "conspiracy theory."