- 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)
Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium
The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.
Eviction Freeze Set To Expire
President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.
The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.
While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.
In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Delays in Relief Distribution
The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.
Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.
A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires.
The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape.
Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.
According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 — including New York — had not spent any funds at all.
Slim Chances in Congress
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.
However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.
While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.
Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.
“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”
With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.