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WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that President Biden is still making up his mind about signing legislation that unanimously passed Congress calling for the declassification of information on the origins of COVID-19.
“We’re taking a look into the bill,” Jean-Pierre said at her regular briefing, during which she also fended off questions about why Biden isn’t holding a press conference with visiting Irish leader Leo Varadkar Friday after similarly ducking the media during German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s March 3 visit.
The House of Representatives unanimously approved the COVID origins bill March 10 after the Senate passed the legislation without opposition one week prior.
Members of both parties have expressed interest in learning what evidence exists for the theory that the virus, which has killed more than 1 million Americans, leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, that was conducting risky US-funded research.
Biden told reporters as he left the White House last week for his Delaware home that “I haven’t made that decision yet” when asked if he would sign the bill.
It’s unclear why Biden would consider vetoing the legislation, which would set up the first potential override of his presidency.
The White House’s continued indecision comes as the Republican-led House Oversight Committee looks into the Biden family’s business relationships in China.
On Thursday, the panel published new details on more than $1 million in bank transfers linked to a Chinese energy company to first brother James Biden, first son Hunter Biden, first daughter-in-law Hallie Biden and one unnamed Biden family member in early 2017. It’s unclear what services the Biden relatives performed.
Biden abruptly walked away from reporters on the White House lawn on March 3 when asked about holding China accountable for the pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal last month revealed that the Energy Department now believes the pandemic began with Chinese lab leak. The department operates the US National Laboratories, giving the assessment additional weight.
FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed after that revelation that the FBI also believes COVID-19 leaked from a lab.
“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” Wray said. “Here you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab.”
Under political pressure, Biden in May 2021 ordered a US intelligence community assessment of the origins of COVID-19, after previously saying the US would defer to the World Health Organization to get answers.
US spy agencies assessed in August 2021 that it was “plausible” that the virus came either from a lab release in Wuhan or from a natural origin via animal-to-human transmission.
At the time, a written statement attributed to Biden said, “The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them.”
“Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world,” the statement said.
“Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.”
But Biden, who campaigned heavily in 2020 on mourning pandemic deaths and slamming then-President Donald Trump’s management of the crisis, has hardly mentioned the origins question since then.