Senate Takes Critical Step Towards Permanently Defunding Group Blamed for COVID-19 Origins

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June 23, 2023

The group that was conducting risky experiments on bat coronaviruses in Wuhan, China, that are widely believed to have caused the global COVID-19 pandemic may soon lose its largest source of federal funding.

Three amendments that Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) successfully added to the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday would bar the Department of Defense from funding EcoHealth Alliance, which conducted research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the lead-up to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The legislative measures would have a devastating impact on EcoHealth Alliance’s bottom line. The Department of Defense has doled out $46 million to the group since 2008 to conduct studies on bat diseases in Asia.

"To prevent a repeat of what happened in Wuhan somewhere else in the world, we are pulling the plug on Pentagon funding for EcoHealth, which has proven it can’t be trusted—with taxpayer dollars or dangerous diseases," Ernst said in a statement Friday. "The tax dollars of hardworking Americans must never again be misspent underwriting risky research or subsidizing communist China’s state-run institutions. Our defense dollars should make the world a safer, not more dangerous, place."

EcoHealth Alliance worked closely with the first known Chinese citizens that were infected with COVID-19 in November 2019, all of whom were researchers at the the lab. One of those researchers, Ben Hu, specialized in modifying coronaviruses so they could bind to human cells, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ernst said the amendments were an important first step in completely severing EcoHealth Alliance from the taxpayer spigot. While her measures would not bar other federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services from funding EcoHealth Alliance, Ernst said the tide had turned against the group in Congress. She told the Washington Free Beacon her amendments to the NDAA were fully supported by her Democratic colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Democrats agreed with me that we needed those answers," Ernst said. "Those three scientists that we think were the first ones that got COVID, we need to know when they knew this and why they didn’t share this information."

"This is the first bite of the apple," Ernst said. "There will be more to follow on the other funding that’s been released to EcoHealth."

Ernst’s amendments would also direct the Pentagon to investigate if EcoHealth Alliance diverted any of its funds to Chinese labs or to conduct risky gain-of-function experiments on deadly viruses.

The Senate’s move to ban the Defense Department from funding EcoHealth Alliance comes as President Joe Biden missed a congressionally mandated deadline to declassify documents related to the origins of COVID-19. In March, the president signed a bill requiring the White House to release the documents by June 18.

Ernst pledged to do everything in her power to pressure the Biden administration to release its records on the pandemic’s origins.

"We don’t want to see anything like this again," Ernst said. "In order to prevent it, we need to know what happened."