WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Republican Whip and Ranking Member of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) opening statement at today’s Select Subcommittee’s hearing emphasizes that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledged that the United States funded gain-of-function experiments in Wuhan, contradicting Dr. Fauci’s testimony to Congress. Whip Scalise called on Democrat Whip and Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to hold a hearing about the NIH admitting that U.S. taxpayers funded gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses in Wuhan and the revelation that EcoHealth Alliance, the U.S. non-profit that funneled NIH money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, failed to comply with the terms of its grant. In addition, Whip Scalise questioned why House Democrats have refused to hold a single hearing on the origins of COVID-19.
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
“I want to alert my colleagues on this subcommittee of a concerning letter the National Institutes of Health wrote to Oversight Ranking Member Comer last week. The letter was a response to the oversight work Republicans have been diligently pursuing to determine the origin of the coronavirus. Of course, all the Republicans on this subcommittee have been calling on the majority to hold a hearing on the origins of COVID. Unfortunately, the majority still refuses to do that.
“In their letter, the NIH admits that EcoHealth Alliance, the firm that was given over $50 million in taxpayer-funded grant money since 2014, was, in fact, conducting gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that the NIH did not approve of. To inform my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, the NIH definition of gain-of-function is any research that modifies a biological agent, like a virus, so that it confers new or enhanced activity to that agent.
“NIH required EcoHealth to report any experiment that conferred enhanced activity above 1,000 percent. The NIH told us that EcoHealth conducted just such an experiment, and EcoHealth failed to report this to NIH. This is in direct violation of the terms of its multimillion-dollar taxpayer-funded grant. Mr. Chairman, we need to have a hearing on this.
“In this experiment, EcoHealth took the backbone of a virus that was not known to infect humans and inserted the spike protein, the area of the virus that binds with human cells, of an unknown bat coronavirus. Then tested its newfound infectivity in humanized mice. The new virus was found to be more active and more lethal in mice than the original virus. EcoHealth conferred it with a new or enhanced activity. Thus, by NIH’s own words – this experiment is gain-of-function research.
“Now, NIH is trying to hide behind semantics. They keep saying, ‘Well, this experiment did not meet the standards for further NIH review and therefore is not gain-of-function.’ This is a false assertion. Work that requires further review is simply a more dangerous subset of gain-of-function. Research can be gain-of-function without triggering further review.
“Interestingly, on October 20, the very day Mr. Comer received this letter, NIH removed the gain-of-function definition off their website. I wonder why. Mr. Chairman, we need a hearing to find out why. These alarming questions are the very reason our subcommittee exists.
“If that wasn’t enough, EcoHealth’s mandatory annual report that disclosed this information was almost two years late. Between September 30, 2019, when EcoHealth’s report was due, and August 3, 2021, when EcoHealth finally reported, they received more than $21 million in grant funds from U.S. taxpayers that the company may not have received if it had timely disclosed to NIH that it had created a virus that would trigger the cessation of its experiments. This is a serious financial incentive to lie. This is a bad actor and a bad steward of taxpayer dollars. I see no reason for the government to continue to work with such a company.
“Mr. Chairman, we need to call EcoHealth to come before this committee and explain these violations of terms of a multimillion-dollar grant paid for by American taxpayers. We need to do our job and perform congressional oversight.
“This committee and many others have heard Dr. Fauci and other administration officials say that the U.S. did not fund gain-of-function research at the lab in Wuhan, China. Now, it turns out that was not accurate and that the NIH wasn’t completely aware of what type of research was going on in Wuhan. If Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins were simply unaware, we should have a hearing on why the federal government is not conducting proper oversight of its grant recipients. If Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins were aware of these experiments and still made these statements, that would be seriously concerning and, again, require a hearing to determine those facts.
“So again, I am going to respectfully ask you, Mr. Chairman, to hold a hearing on the origin of the coronavirus. You routinely say that we need to defend public health. We now have evidence of a federal grant recipient blatantly violating its grant, failing to report this violation, and then waiting two years to file its annual report, presumably to avoid NIH scrutiny. These actions are a direct assault on our public health infrastructure. If you truly care about defending public health and preparing for the next pandemic, it is imperative that we hear from EcoHealth Alliance and Dr. Fauci on this matter. We need to understand who knew what and when they knew it and what types of experiments American taxpayers are funding.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”