Republicans have significantly retooled the focus of the House panel investigating the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that aligns with the new majority’s oversight focus.
As part of the rules package that passed the House 220-213 on Monday night, the 12-member Select Committee on the Coronavirus Response will be charged with examining the origins of the pandemic, including federal funding of gain-of-function research.
The origins of the coronavirus have become intensely politicized, and Biden officials and outside scientists are bracing for a new wave of investigations.
The examination of gain-of-function research is central to the common GOP position that the virus originated from a lab in Wuhan, China, and was potentially backed by funding from the U.S. government. Last year, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released a report concluding the pandemic began with a virus that escaped from the Wuhan lab.
When they were in the minority, Republicans were not shy about launching probes into the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on the origins of the virus and whether the federal government — and by extension, Anthony Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — helped fund controversial research that might have played a role in its creation.
With the majority, the GOP would have the authority to lob subpoenas at the administration to force it to hand over documents, likely through the broader House Oversight and Reform Committee, now chaired by Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), under which the coronavirus panel works.
The coronavirus committee will also investigate trillions of dollars in aid doled out to address the pandemic, federal COVID-19-related mandates, and the impact of school closures. Republicans have been frustrated with what they see as the administration’s unaccountable coronavirus spending and are looking to shine a spotlight on where the relief money has gone.
The panel’s focus is a major change from how it operated under the Democratic-controlled House. Former Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) prioritized looking into the early response and shortcomings from the Trump administration, as well as the former president’s political interference.
With its focus often falling on Trump, Republicans on the panel regularly accused Clyburn of politically motivated investigations. A bipartisan pandemic response bill was included in last year’s omnibus funding bill, but it did not contain a provision that would have established an independent commission to investigate the government pandemic response and the virus’s origins.
Republicans have not selected a leader for the committee, though its first hearing is expected next month.