As Lab Leak Theory Leaves The Realm Of Fringe Conspiracy, Republicans Consider Next Steps

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With President Joe Biden ordering intelligence agencies to assess the likelihood of the COVID-19 lab leak theory, Republicans who touted it feel vindicated.

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that the intelligence community would deliver an assessment on the origins of COVID-19 in 90 days, telling officials to “redouble their efforts.” Even some media outlets are rethinking their coverage of the lab leak theory. Many journalists, New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait wrote, “conflated the bioweapon theory with the more modest lab-leak hypothesis.”

J. Stephen Morrison, a public health researcher, told NPR that many scientists rejected the lab leak theory because they “recoiled against … some of the more crazy aspects of Trump.”

The lab leak theory posits that COVID-19 could have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists conducted gain-of-function research on bat-based coronaviruses. (RELATED: Why Aren’t We Talking More About China’s ‘Gain Of Function’ Coronavirus Research?)

Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, an early proponent of the lab leak theory, re-emphasized his concerns with the experiments on bat-based coronaviruses WIV scientists were conducting.

“Gain-of-function research is risky by definition and it may well have caused a once-in-a-century pandemic. The world deserves to know what kind of experiments the Chinese government was performing on viruses, especially at its labs in Wuhan,” Cotton told the Daily Caller. (EXCLUSIVE: Tom Cotton Blasts ‘Apologists’ In Media For Accepting Chinese Propaganda Surrounding Coronavirus Origins)

Less than three weeks after Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s testy exchange with Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci about whether or not the United States funds gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the Senate unanimously passed Paul’s amendment purporting to ban federal funding for gain-of-function research in China.

“Since I brought this up two weeks ago to Dr. Fauci, public opinion has moved dramatically against gain-of-function research so much that the Senate voted on my amendment proposal to ban all funding of gain-of-function research in China,” Paul told the Daily Caller.

At the time, Fauci denied that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) funded gain-of-function research at WIV.

“The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Fauci said. “If you look at the grant and you look at the progress reports, it is not gain-of-function, despite the fact that people tweet that, they write about it.”

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 27: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci listens during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in the press briefing room of the White House on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported that NIH and NIAID fund gain-of-function research at WIV through grants to the non-profit research group EcoHealth Alliance.

A Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) review board that was tasked with evaluating and potentially rejecting gain-of-function funding did not do so for those grants. NIH and NIAID are allowed to determine in-house whether or not the grants fund gain-of-function research, without any oversight. Therefore, the agencies are only subject to oversight when they allow themselves to be.

“Despite Dr. Fauci’s denials, there is ample evidence and backing by the scientific community that the NIH and the NIAID, under his direction, funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Paul’s office told the Daily Caller.

Paul’s amendment defines gain-of-function research as “any research project that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity or transmissibility in mammals.” It also has potential civilian and military uses.

However, fault lines surrounding the definition of gain-of-function research and the impact of Paul’s amendment have already begun to emerge. Most notably, Paul’s amendment may not eliminate the problem of American grant money flowing to Chinese labs that conduct gain-of-function research.

Rutgers University molecular biologist Dr. Richard Ebright, a frequent critic of gain-of-function research, told the Daily Caller that the amendment suffers from the same problem as other legislative attempts to manage gain-of-function research funding.

“The amendment uses the same definitions of covered research as in the HHS Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight Framework, the federal policy that has been systematically violated by NIAID and NIH in the last three years,” he said.

“Therefore, unless passage of the amendment is accompanied by personnel changes at NIAID and NIH, and/or improved Congressional oversight of NIAID and NIH, it is unclear whether passage of the amendment will have an impact.”

Ebright recommends that government officials be more transparent with each other and the public about the research that they fund and conduct.

The public health bureaucracy should replace “the secret, unaccountable department-level review process under the current policy with an open and accountable department-level process, and provid[e] public reports of committee members, committee proceedings, and committee decisions,” he said.