/House GOP to launch probe on coronavirus origin and federal response – The Washington Post

House GOP to launch probe on coronavirus origin and federal response – The Washington Post

Party lawmakers officially chartered the new effort in a sprawling package setting the chamber’s rules for the next two years, awarding it a sweeping mandate — from looking into vaccine development, school closures and other mitigation measures to examining the roughly $5 trillion in emergency federal aid approved since early 2020.

Republicans have long derided Democrats, public health experts and others who advocated for an aggressive government response to covid-19, which has claimed millions of lives globally. At the center of GOP criticism is the suspicion that the coronavirus originated out of laboratory experiments in Wuhan, China, potentially backed by U.S. money — a view at odds with peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to a more likely origin in a Wuhan market.

With new control of the House, however, the GOP aims to surface those concerns in a more prominent setting, questioning a wide array of current and former government officials, potentially including Anthony S. Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The panel, officially named as the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, essentially replaces a Democrat-led legislative body that had focused its work on monitoring emergency coronavirus aid for fraud. Under Republicans, it does not yet have a leader, but it is expected to hold its first hearing in February.

“There’s a lot of confusion out there, there’s a lot of uncertainty out there, and I believe every American regardless of their political ideology would like to know the truth,” said Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who is set to chair the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, under whose umbrella the covid panel will do its work.

In recent months, GOP lawmakers have told the White House to preserve records related to the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, the private Florida residence of former president Donald Trump. They have signaled other coming investigations of Biden’s domestic and foreign policies, including his 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan. And they have set in motion an entire investigative body to look into the “weaponization of the federal government,” focused on law enforcement and national security agencies.

“This isn’t about Joe Biden or Donald Trump. This is about covid-19,” he said, later adding: “We’re concerned about some government employees, and these employees were hired long before the previous two presidents. So I don’t think it’s political at all.”

The official charter for the 12-member subcommittee tasks it with exploring the origin of the pandemic as well as federal funding for “gain-of-function research.” The term refers to scientific efforts to create novel versions of pathogens to better understand how they work and, potentially, to combat them.

To date, there is no evidence the novel coronavirus was in a laboratory before the outbreak, and Chinese scientists say they never had it in any of their facilities. Peer-reviewed scientific papers, meanwhile, have attributed the start of the pandemic to a market where the virus may have leaped from animals to humans. But Republicans have maintained otherwise and repeatedly signaled a desire to probe the matter further — setting up the new majority to force federal officials to testify on “gain of function” research and the “lab leak” theory.

And the House’s new, guiding rules indicated the select subcommittee would similarly probe the “development of vaccines and treatments,” with Comer on Monday citing an interest in the “effectiveness of the vaccines and the concerns that people are starting to raise with respect to side effects.”

In a sign of their commitment, Republicans late last year secured an end to a policy requiring that military service members be vaccinated against the coronavirus. They brokered the deal as part of a sweeping measure authorizing Pentagon spending, having previously threatened to shut down the government just to end the policy.

The GOP also pledged to probe the roughly $5 trillion in emergency federal spending adopted since the start of the pandemic. The relief packages — all but one of which was bipartisan in nature, and one of which was signed into law by Trump — helped unemployed workers and cash-starved businesses in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But the money also enabled vast waste, fraud and abuse, with criminals taking advantage of lax federal regulations and some state officials, largely Republicans, put the money toward tax cuts, immigration crackdowns and other pet projects.