Jun 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Republicans push to sanction Chinese officials over Wuhan lab probe

Elise Stefanik

Rep. Elise Stefanik. Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two House Republicans — including Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) — are introducing a bill Tuesday to sanction top Chinese health officials until they allow an investigation into whether the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan lab, according to a copy of the bill text obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The lab-leak theory has regained prominence in both the scientific and political worlds, after the Wall Street Journal reported that three scientists who worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology experienced COVID-19 symptoms in November 2019.

  • There’s still no conclusive evidence on where the virus originated.
  • In March, a joint team of investigators from China and the World Health Organization called the lab-leak theory "extremely unlikely."
  • But the report that team produced has come under fire over the lack of transparency from the Chinese government, and there have been bipartisan calls for further investigation.

Driving the news: Stefanik and Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) will introduce the ‘‘World Deserves to Know Act’’ on Tuesday afternoon.

  • While it's hard to see its path to becoming law, having a member of congressional leadership behind the bill signifies how aggressively the party plans to lean into the issue.

State of play: President Biden last month ordered the U.S. intelligence community to "redouble their efforts" to determine where and how COVID-19 emerged.

  • G7 leaders also called last weekend for a “timely, transparent, expert-led" study conducted in China on the virus' origin.
  • The lab-leak theory has gained steam partially because no conclusive evidence has emerged that the virus spilled over from animals.
  • China also has propelled it by stonewalling any thorough, independent investigation.

Between the lines: Republicans, including former President Trump, say they feel vindicated for having pushed the lab-leak theory early on.

  • They’re now demanding congressional hearings.
  • Trump administration officials also are weighing in: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on "Fox News Sunday " he believes the virus originated in a Chinese lab, while former CDC Director Robert Redfield said in March he believes the coronavirus "escaped" from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Yes, but: The calls aren't solely partisan. Some Democratic lawmakers agree the theory should be more thoroughly investigated.

  • “As we analyze what went wrong and what we can do in the future, we have to have answers to these questions, too,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Senate’s ealth committee, told Politico. “And I think you’re going to see Congress addressing some of these matters as well. We’ve got to get to the bottom of it.”

Go deeper: Lab risks face scrutiny amid COVID origins controversy.

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