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HHS chief Xavier Becerra calls for "transparent" follow-up investigation into COVID origins

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told a virtual World Health Assembly meeting Tuesday there needs to be a "transparent, science-based" follow-up investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: The original investigation by a team of scientists assembled by the World Health Organization and China's government returned inconclusive findings and was criticized by top officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken.


  • Blinken told CNN in March that the Biden administration has "real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it."

What they're saying: "Phase 2 of the COVID origins study must be launched with terms of reference that are transparent, science-based, and give international experts the independence to fully assess the source of the virus and the early days of the outbreak," Becerra said at the virtual meeting.

  • NIAID director Anthony Fauci said at a White House briefing Tuesday he believed the coronavirus originated from a "natural occurrence," but further investigation was needed.

Of note: Becerra also addressed the Chinese government's opposition to the WHO granting recognition to Taiwan.

  • "Global collaboration will be key in tackling the many challenges still before us. Collaboration with non-state actors must continue, and we must invite Taiwan to be a part of the World Health Assembly as an observer," Becerra said.

Flashback: The report identified the four possible origins of the virus:

  • Direct zoonotic spillover, which was deemed "possible to likely;"
  • Introduction through an intermediate host, regarded as 'likely to very likely;
  • Introduction through cold/ food chain products, which was considered to be "possible" and;
  • "Introduction through a laboratory incident" — which the WHO team said was "extremely unlikely.

The other side: Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry said following criticism of the released report, "The U.S. has been speaking out on the report. By doing this, isn’t the U.S. trying to exert political pressure on the members of the WHO expert group?"

Reports: Trump DOJ subpoenaed Apple for records of WH counsel Don McGahn

Apple told former Trump administration White House counsel Don McGahn last month that the Department of Justice subpoenaed information about accounts of his in 2018, the New York Times first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Although it's unclear why the DOJ took the action, such a move against a senior lawyer representing the presidency is highly unusual.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on reports that the Trump-era Department of Justice seized Democrats' and journalists' data records.

Driving the news: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal investigation into the matter, and Pelosi expressed disbelief to CNN's Dana Brash at assertions that neither Barr nor Sessions knew of probes into lawmakers.

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Shipping giant CEO says business have to avoid global politics

The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark told me on "Axios on HBO" that the business group was right to endorse vulnerable House Democrats last year, despite the flak that resulted from Republicans.

  • Clark, who took over the top job in March, said those House Democrats "had really helped push business's number one priority, which was the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, over the finish line."
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The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency tells "Axios on HBO" that it's "essential" to have a nuclear deal with Iran because otherwise "we are flying blind."

Driving the news: Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi sat down with "Axios on HBO" at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, ahead of Iran's June 18 presidential election and a June 24 extension on negotiations seeking to restore curtailed surveillance of Iranian nuclear sites and salvage the 2015 deal.

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U.N. ambassador Thomas-Greenfield sees tough Putin summit

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told me on "Axios on HBO" that President Biden will be candid, frank — and tough — during this week's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • "The president will make clear to the Russians that they cannot harbor cyber terrorists and criminals in their country and not be held accountable for it," she added. "And they need to take the responsibility for dealing with this issue."
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Dems’ go-it-alone approach faces big hurdles as left’s frustrations spill over

If a bipartisan group of lawmakers fails to strike a deal on the infrastructure proposal it's negotiating with the White House, ramming through a package using the partisan reconciliation process isn't a guaranteed solution.

Why it matters: Getting 51 Democratic votes would be a long, uphill battle. And moderates within the party are balking at the cost of President Biden's spending — even as progressives openly lament that the "transformational" change they seek is slipping out of reach.

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America's U.N. ambassador: "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams"

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has argued over her 39-year diplomatic career that educating and empowering women and girls is an investment in peace and security for their nations.

  • "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams," she told me in the State Department Treaty Room, during an interview for "Axios on HBO."
  • "I notice ... when they're not in the room. ... Sometimes I'm the only one," she added with a laugh. "And I will call it out."
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