UPDATE: 10:10 p.m. ET Thursday ― Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) announced Thursday on Twitter that he is withdrawing his support for the resolution, saying it has been “used to create division, as the president’s xenophobia stokes racism across the country.”
WASHINGTON ― A bipartisan pair of House lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a resolution that blames China for causing a global pandemic and calls on the Chinese government to publicly declare that COVID-19 began there, a move that would almost certainly fuel President Donald Trump’s racist “Chinese virus” rhetoric and the recent uptick in attacks on Asian Americans.
Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) are leading the resolution, which would be nonbinding but reflect a sense of the House. Their measure condemns China for making “multiple, serious mistakes” in its response to the new coronavirus, including the government downplaying the risks of the virus, censoring medical professionals and expelling journalists. It also specifically calls on the Chinese government to “publicly state that there’s no evidence that COVID–19 originated anywhere else but China.”
Here’s a copy of the resolution, obtained by HuffPost:
The problem with their measure is that it does precisely what public health leaders say not to do: It associates an infectious disease with a geographic region. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both warned specifically against doing this because it can lead to a stigma, discrimination and violence directed at groups of people.
Asian Americans are already reporting an increase in xenophobic and racist attacks. Some have been spit on, yelled at and assaulted. Trump’s repeated references to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” have only made things worse. One group, Chinese for Affirmative Action, is part of a coalition that began tracking attacks against Asian Americans related to the coronavirus last week. Within 24 hours, there were more than 40 reports.
“This resolution puts American lives in danger,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told House Democrats in a private caucus call Tuesday afternoon, according to one Democrat on the call. “I would like to say to my Democratic colleagues, ‘Please do not sign on to this resolution.’”
In an interview later Tuesday, Chu, who is Chinese American, gave examples of the kinds of attacks on Asian Americans in recent weeks related to the coronavirus pandemic. In New York, a Chinese American woman wearing a face mask was assaulted in a subway station by a man who shouted “diseased bitch.” In Texas, a man at a Sam’s Club stabbed three Asian Americans, two of whom were children. In California, an Asian American man at a Target store in Daly City was verbally attacked for coughing.
“People are afraid and angry,” she said. “Directing that anger toward China puts Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at risk.”
Chu said she personally asked Moulton not to introduce the resolution. He was not receptive.
“I told him in very clear terms that introducing this resolution now, as emotions are so high and fear and anxiety are spiking at the highest rates, and as anti-Asian American hate crimes are on the rise, would be extremely harmful,” she said. “He insisted he had to speak out against China in this moment.”
Moulton is the only Democrat supporting the resolution in a group of nearly 40 Republicans. His spokesman Tim Biba said Moulton is co-sponsoring it as a way to hold Trump accountable for his own authoritarian behavior. He noted that Moulton also previously criticized Trump’s xenophobia around the coronavirus.
“Seth signed onto this bill because we need to make clear what China’s government is doing so that we can point out how President Trump is using their playbook,” Biba said. “While his test kits were failing, the President and his son were peddling lies about the virus’ origins on Fox News in the same way China’s government was saying the U.S. Defense Department caused the pandemic to their domestic audience. China’s government made a lot of mistakes, and the president did too, and real leadership is calling those things out for what they are and demanding accountability.”
Moulton also tweeted about his reasoning for backing the resolution.
“The American people should hold our leaders accountable, and their representatives in Congress should hold China accountable for its part in this pandemic,” Moulton said in a lengthy statement.
In a statement provided by his office, Banks said his resolution is important because China is ultimately to blame for the outbreak.
“As the Chinese Communist Party pushes propaganda and lies to try and blame the United States for coronavirus, we need to make the case to the world that China is ultimately responsible for this outbreak,” Banks said. “They tried to cover up news of the virus, jailed doctors warning of a possible pandemic, and prevented the CDC from coming to study the disease. In all, they cost the globe two months in time to prepare for this virus. I hope this begins a conversation about how China can be held accountable for their negligent coronavirus response.”
Asked if Banks is worried at all about his resolution fueling attacks against Asian Americans, and why it matters to him that China publicly declare that COVID-19 originated there, his spokesman Mitchell Hailstone said “because the Chinese officials are publishing conspiracy theories and saying the virus was brought to China by the U.S. Army. I hope you can parse the difference between the Chinese Communist government and Chinese Americans.”
The reality, though, is that bigots in American can’t even parse the difference between Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans, never mind the Chinese government and Chinese people. Americans with families from Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar and other places have been facing threats because of COVID-19, too.
Chu said that during Tuesday’s caucus call, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said China has “all kinds of personal protective equipment” it is willing to send to the United States and that there are philanthropists who have offered to get planes to bring it over. But because of the anti-China sentiment coming out of the U.S., they’re having trouble doing it.
“It seems our total focus should be working together in fighting this global pandemic,” Chu added. “We could be working together to save lives in the United States.”
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