WASHINGTON — The House’s coronavirus committee will continue in a Republican-controlled chamber — but with a vastly different mandate, reflecting GOP frustration with the federal pandemic response.
The revamped, 12-person committee is now commissioned with probing the virus’ origins, investigating gain-of-function research, and interrogating government spending and pandemic-related mandates. The House cleared the altered committee as part of a sweeping rules package approved by a 220-213 vote late Monday, with just one Republican voting against the rules.
The changes reflect a stark departure from the original, Democrat-formed committee mandate, which largely focused on the nation’s poor preparedness, early Trump administration missteps, and the proliferation of misinformation about the virus, vaccines, and treatments. Democrats and many public health advocates expected that the subcommittee would disband with a GOP majority.
Instead, it will evolve into a Biden administration nightmare, delving into Republicans’ longtime complaints about vaccine requirements, government spending, and theories about the virus’ origins.
Democrats can nominate five caucus members to join the committee, but Republican leadership is not required to approve any of them.
The committee’s to-do list now includes investigating “the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, including but not limited to the federal government’s funding of gain-of-function research,” the rules language states, referring to research that genetically alters viruses, sometimes making them more transmissible to study how they spread. Federal scientists such as former top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci have vehemently denied funding gain-of-function research related to Covid-19.
Some House Republicans, like new Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), have already signaled their intent to investigate the virus’ origins and government spending.
The committee’s other mandates similarly reflect simmering Republican frustration over the pandemic response. The group is commissioned with probing how taxpayer funds were used to respond to the pandemic, “including any reports of waste, fraud, or abuse,” and investigating the impact that school closures and widespread shutdowns had on childrens’ learning, the economy, and small businesses.
The subcommittee does not have subpoena power but can turn to the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability for the favor.
The committee must publish a report on its findings by January 2, 2025, but can issue “such interim reports as it may deem necessary.”