- Hours after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it was investigating whether the coronavirus pandemic began from natural causes or from a lab outbreak in China, President Trump on Thursday said he was confident that the virus had broken out of a lab.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated this claim Sunday, citing “enormous evidence.”
- The “lab theory” contradicts the opinion of many health experts, who argue the virus is very likely “natural in origin.”
- It also contradicts other world leaders and even other federal U.S. agencies, which have so far found no evidence to support such a theory.
Trump and Pompeo Say Coronavirus Came from Chinese Lab
President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are pushing a theory that the coronavirus pandemic began in a lab in Wuhan, China; however, scientists are citing a lack of evidence to that theory and believe a natural origin is much more likely.
On Thursday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement saying it was looking at two possibilities into how this pandemic started. The first is that the outbreak began “through contact with infected animals.” The second is that it “was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
Later in the day, Trump gave support to that second theory after a reporter asked him if he had a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of the virus.
When asked why, Trump said he was not allowed to reveal that information.
Pompeo repeated Trump’s claim in a Sunday interview on “This Week” with ABC co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
“Mr. Secretary, have you seen anything that gives you high confidence that it originated in that Wuhan lab?” Raddatz asked.
“Martha, there’s enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” Pompeo responded. “We’ve said from the beginning that this was a virus that originated in Wuhan, China. We took a lot of grief for that from the outside, but I think the whole world can see now.”
“Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories,” he added.
“These are not the first times that we’ve had the world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab. So while the intelligence committee continues to do its work, they should continue to do that and verify so that we are certain. I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
Directly afterward, Pompeo said he agreed with a recent report from the ODNI that said it doesn’t believe the coronavirus was man-made or genetically modified.
Raddatz then asked him if he thought China had intentionally released the coronavirus or if it was a lab accident, but Pompeo said he couldn’t answer that question because the Communist Party has refused to cooperate with world health experts.
Later on Sunday, during a Fox News town hall, Trump seemed to indicate that he thought the virus had broken out from a lab in Wuhan.
“I think they made a horrible mistake and they didn’t want to admit it,” he said.
“We wanted to go in. They didn’t want us there, even world health wanted to go in. They were admitted but much later, you know, not immediately. And my opinion is they made a mistake. They tried to cover it. They tried to put it out, just like a fire.”
Health Experts and Other World Leaders Disagree
If the president’s claim is true, such a revelation would be extremely notable, except many scientists disagree with this theory.
While there have been a flurry of discussions as to whether the virus specifically originated at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, health officials say the world may never truly be able to learn that answer. They do, however, believe that it’s much more likely the virus made the leap from an animal to a human in a non-lab setting.
World Health Organization Emergency Response Chief Mike Ryan directly pushed back at Trump’s claim on Friday, saying, “We have listened again and again to numerous scientists who have looked at the sequences and looked at this virus. We are assured that this virus is natural in origin. What is important is that we establish what that natural host for this virus is… how the animal-human species barrier was breached.”
In addition to health experts, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that there’s no evidence the coronavirus originated in a lab. Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said France had seen no evidence of linking COVID-19 to a Wuhan lab.
On top of all of that, even in the United States, current and former government officials reportedly told The New York Times that the C.I.A. has not been able “to unearth any data beyond circumstantial evidence to bolster the lab theory.” The agency has also reportedly told lawmakers that it does not have enough information to either refute or confirm the theory.
It added that the only way to truly find “definitive proof” would be by gaining access to the lab and studying its viral samples.
Lab Theory Spurred by China’s Lack of Transparency
Part of the reason the lab theory has gained such traction may be a result of China’s lack of transparency after the pandemic first began.
For example, Chinese officials have rejected calls for an investigation into the source of the virus. In March, one Chinese official actually pushed a conspiracy theory that the U.S. spread the virus. A month earlier, China shut down the lab that shared the coronavirus genome.
Because of actions like that, Pompeo was also critical of China’s early actions, saying the Chinese Communist Party “did all that it could to make sure that the world didn’t learn in a timely fashion about what was taking place.”
“There’s lots of evidence of that,” Pompeo added. “Some of it you can see in public, right. We’ve seen announcements, we’ve seen the fact that they’ve kicked journalists out, we saw the fact that those who were trying to report on this, medical professionals, inside of China were silenced. They shut down reporting. All the kind of things authoritarian regimes do. It’s the way communist parties operate.”
Still, an editorial in the Communist Party-controlled Global Times has pushed back against this claim and the lab theory, reading:
“Since Pompeo said his claims are supported by ‘enormous evidence,’ then he should present this so-called evidence to the world, and especially to the American public who he continually tries to fool. The truth is that Pompeo does not have any evidence, and during Sunday’s interview, he was bluffing.”
Part of the reason why neither Trump nor Pompeo will explain the evidence they’ve cited could be because according to reports, some evidence appears to be based on electronic intercepts of communications among Chinese officials, and revealing those could reportedly reveal intel about how the U.S. tracks Chinese officials.
Other critics, including those in the U.S., have alleged that the Trump Administration’s efforts to ramp up criticism of China are a deflection for how the federal government has handled the pandemic.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (The New York Times)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”