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A bill to declassify COVID-19's origins clears the House and heads to Biden

A man crosses an empty highway road on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.
Stringer
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A man crosses an empty highway road on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

Updated March 10, 2023 at 5:38 PM ET

The House has unanimously passed a bill to require the Director of National Intelligence to declassify information regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It cleared the chamber 419-0, with 204 House Democrats joining Republicans in support of the bill. A Senate version of the measure, which was introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley, passed that chamber by unanimous consent earlier this month.

Biden told reporters he hadn't decided yet whether he will sign the bill. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president is committed to "get to the bottom" of the origins of COVID but also wants to protect classified information.

Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, voiced his support of the bill during floor debate.

"The American public deserves answers to every aspect of COVID-19 pandemic including how this virus was created, and specifically whether it was a natural occurrence or was the result of a lab related event," Turner said.

Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, the ranking member of the House Committee on Intelligence, said ahead of the vote that he was supporting the bill because he thinks transparency on the issue would help silence false theories.

"I believe that the IC [intelligence community] should make as much public as they can," Himes said speaking on the House floor Friday. "Transparency is a critical element of our democracy. The factual grounding of the IC's analysis can be an antidote to the speculation, the rumor and the theories that grow in the absence of good information."

He also noted that the bill allows officials to redact information "to protect sources and methods."

The bill comes amid debate over the virus' origins. Eight U.S. government agencies are investigating the source of COVID-19, and they remain very divided on the issue. None of them is certain about the cause. Four lean toward natural causes. Two haven't taken a position. Meanwhile, the evidence produced by the greater scientific community points overwhelmingly to a natural cause, via exposure to an infected animal.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Washington Desk