Biden shift on COVID origins tracks dicey politics: The Note

Biden told U.S. intelligence agencies to further probe the origins of COVID-19.

May 27, 2021, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

What if what looked and sounded and was mocked like a conspiracy theory was actually right?

President Joe Biden's course shift on the origins of the coronavirus is one of those developments that means both less and more than it might seem.

His call for U.S. intelligence agencies to "redouble their efforts" is far from a guarantee that there will ever be a final answer about how COVID-19 emerged among humans. That is near-impossible now without the full cooperation of China and given Biden's acknowledgment that there are already competing theories that seem plausible to U.S. analysts.

At the same time, the president's disclosure about the unanswered questions puts his own administration -- not the World Health Organization or the "international community," as the White House previously favored -- in the middle of a raging debate with political, racial and national-security implications.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks about the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C, on May 13, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks about the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C, on May 13, 2021.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The idea that COVID-19 emerged from a lab in China has become Trump-loyalist mantra, particularly after it drew mockery from mainstream scientists and journalists.

The mere suggestion that Biden knew something it wasn't admitting is already igniting GOP fury over the current administration's relationship with China. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is calling Biden aides "part of the cover-up" and questioning whether the administration can be trusted with an investigation.

Biden's request for a new 90-day review came amid pressure from outside and inside his own party for a more full accounting of how the pandemic began. What could be an attempt at political damage control could also be a meaningful political marker for the future of both Biden and his predecessor.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

The Senate is gearing up to vote as early as Thursday on whether to establish a commission investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

It passed the House with 35 Republicans breaking ranks in support. The commission has been met with staunch opposition from many Senate Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It is undeniable that Republicans have an eye toward the midterm elections. It is also apparent that a 9/11-style commission could reflect poorly on the party and pose a threat to attempts to win back majorities in the House and Senate.

PHOTO: Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Trump supporters storm the Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump, Jan. 6, 2021.
Samuel Corum/Getty Images, FILE

Republicans faced a similar quandary during that 9/11 commission in 2004. At that time, President George W. Bush's reelection effort hung in the balance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still has cards to play if Republicans block an independent bipartisan commission. She could form a select committee of mostly Democrats to investigate, though she has said her "overwhelming preference" is for an independent bipartisan commission.

What happens next is uncertain, but Gladys Sicknick, the mother of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick who died after responding to the attack, will meet with amenable GOP senators Thursday. She's reportedly said it would be a "slap in the faces" of officers who responded on Jan. 6 if a commission is voted down.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

Ahead of the Supreme Court's new conservative majority taking up an abortion rights case in its next term, some conservatives in state legislatures are leaning into the long-debated issue through state bills.

This week in Pennsylvania, the Republican-controlled state legislature advanced a pair of bills that tackled abortion in two ways. One piece of legislation bans abortions sought on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis and the other prohibits conducting abortions if a physician detects a fetal heartbeat.

If passed by the legislature, the bills are inevitably going to be vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

"I will veto any anti-choice legislation that lands on my desk," he said in a recent statement.

PHOTO: Texas state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, center at lectern, stands with fellow lawmakers in the House Chamber, May 5, 2021, in Austin, Texas, as she opposes a bill introduced that would ban abortions as early as six weeks.
Texas state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, center at lectern, stands with fellow lawmakers in the House Chamber, May 5, 2021, in Austin, Texas, as she opposes a bill introduced that would ban abortions as early as six weeks.
Eric Gay/AP

Meanwhile in Texas, a similar "heartbeat" bill was recently signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, setting up imminent legal challenges. In addition to banning abortions based on the detection of a fetal heartbeat, the legislation -- which goes into effect in September -- also allows individual Texans to sue anyone who performs an abortion or "abets the performance or inducement of an abortion."


ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News' Kaylee Hartung on the scene of a mass shooting in San Jose, California, that left eight people dead as well as the shooter. "Nature" writer Amy Maxmen explains how Dr. Anthony Fauci is confronting the COVID-19 "lab leak" theory. And ABC News Chief Business and Economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis breaks down Amazon's purchase of MGM.


  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., appears on ABC's "The View."
  • Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, Pat Toomey, John Barrasso and Roy Blunt hold a press conference at 9:05 a.m. to announce their infrastructure counteroffer.
  • President Joe Biden receives the president's daily brief at 10 a.m. He travels to Cleveland and tours Cuyahoga Community College at 1:50 p.m. and delivers remarks on the economy at 2:30 p.m.
  • The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties holds a hearing at 10 a.m. about discrimination and the Voting Rights Act.
  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen appears before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government at 11 a.m. for an oversight hearing.
  • Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, appears before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs at 11 a.m. for a hearing on the agency's budget.
  • First lady Jill Biden travels to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Kansas City, Missouri. At 11:45 a.m. she tours a vaccination clinic at Grand Rapids Community College's downtown campus. At 2:15 p.m. CT she tours the vaccination clinic at Metropolitan Community College's Penn Valley campus.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense at 1 p.m. for a hearing on the department's budget.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris convenes private-sector leaders to discuss economic development in the Northern Triangle at 4 p.m.
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