The Hill: Moderate Democrats call for 9/11-style panel to probe COVID-19 origins

THE HILL, SCOTT WONG

A bloc of moderate House Democrats on Wednesday called for the creation of a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 virus in China and assess the United States’ response to the pandemic that killed more than 600,000 Americans. 

Leaders of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and their GOP counterparts urging them to pass legislation that would establish a national COVID-19 commission.

The origins of the coronavirus are still unknown.

Many scientists and the World Health Organization suspect the virus was transferred to humans at an animal market in Wuhan, China. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other Republicans believe that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, and they’ve accused President Biden and congressional Democrats of giving cover to China and failing to get to the bottom of the pandemic mystery.

At Biden’s direction, the U.S. intelligence community has been assigned to probe the matter and report back to the president by August. But the Blue Dogs’ letter Wednesday suggests the GOP attacks on Democrats, particularly vulnerable ones with tough reelections in 2022, have been effective. 

“The commission would examine how COVID-19 emerged and spread in the United States; evaluate the United States’ preparedness for and response to the pandemic; and issue a report providing Congress, the President, and the American people with a full accounting of what occurred and recommending concrete steps the U.S. public and private sector can take to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and mitigate the harmful impact of future pandemics,” the Blue Dog leaders wrote to House and Senate leadership. 

“The purpose of the commission would not be to point fingers or assign blame, but rather to make the United States stronger and more resilient if we face another pandemic.”

The Blue Dogs also took direct aim at Beijing: “Understanding exactly how COVID-19 originated and how its initial spread began is critical to creating an accurate historical account of the pandemic and is vital to helping the United States prepare for future pandemics. The Chinese government will predictably object to this effort to learn the truth. Its objections should be noted and then disregarded.”

Similar to the bipartisan panel Congress created to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the COVID-19 commission would be comprised of 10 “well-respected individuals, five appointed by Democrats and five by Republicans.”

So far, Pelosi has shown little interest in forming a national commission on COVID-19. She did launch a special House committee last year to oversee trillions of dollars in COVID-19 relief aid.       

The letter was signed by the four co-chairs of the Blue Dogs, Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Ed Case (D-Hawaii), as well as Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.). 

The other Blue Dogs who signed the letter were Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

The Blue Dogs said legislation co-authored by Murphy and the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), could serve as a template for a bill forming the COVID-19 commission. 

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