The House unanimously approved a bill on Friday that would require the director of national intelligence (DNI) to declassify information related to the origins of COVID-19, sending the measure to President Biden’s desk for final approval.
The legislation, titled the COVID-19 Origin Act, passed in a 419-0 vote, just over a week after the Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sponsored the measure.
The White House has not indicated whether Biden will sign the measure. Asked on Wednesday if the president had made a decision on the bill, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre referred reporters to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent last year, but it was not brought up in the House.
The renewed push on Capitol Hill to declassify intelligence pertaining to the origins of COVID-19 came shortly after The Wall Street Journal reported the Energy Department had determined, with “low confidence,” that coronavirus most likely came from a laboratory in China.
The determination, for which the Journal cited a classified intelligence report, was a change from the department’s previous undecided stance on COVID-19’s origins. The classified report, according to the newspaper, was recently sent to the White House and some congressional lawmakers.
The intelligence community, however, is fractured when it comes to the origins of COVID-19.
According to a report from the ODNI, four intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council have assessed, with “low confidence,” that the initial COVID-19 infection “was most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus,” while one intelligence community element determined with “moderate confidence” that the first human infection with COVID-19 likely came from a “laboratory-associated incident.”
Analysts at three intelligence agencies, however, have not been able to come to a conclusion on the origins of COVID-19.
The bill passed by the House on Friday would specifically direct the DNI to “declassify any and all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin” of COVID-19. That, according to the measure, includes “activities performed by the Wuhan Institute of Virology with or on behalf of the People’s Liberation Army” and “coronavirus research or other related activities performed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.”
Additionally, the measure would require that the DNI declassify information on the researchers working at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who became sick in autumn 2019.
All that information would then be submitted to Congress in an unclassified report, with the DNI making any redactions necessary.