GOP Congressmen Pen Bill That Would Allow Americans to Sue Chinese Government Over Coronavirus Pandemic

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) introduced a bill Thursday that would allow Americans to sue the government of China for harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, titled the Holding the Chinese Communist Party Accountable for Infecting Americans Act of 2020, is the latest move by Republican lawmakers who seek to blame China for the U.S. becoming the global leader in cases and deaths from the virus. Cotton, a frequent critic of China, said that actions by the country's government had helped the virus spread beyond its borders.

"By silencing doctors and journalists who tried to warn the world about the coronavirus, the Chinese Communist Party allowed the virus to spread quickly around the globe," Cotton said in a statement. "Their decision to cover up the virus led to thousands of needless deaths and untold economic harm. It's only appropriate that we hold the Chinese government accountable for the damage it has caused."

A number of medical experts who acted as whistleblowers not long after the virus first emerged in China reported that the Chinese government acted to suppress information about the outbreak early on, news that was first reported publicly in early January.

Cotton expressed concern over the virus weeks later when he predicted the Chinese outbreak could become a pandemic during a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 30, calling it "a catastrophe on the scale of Chernobyl for China."

Newsweek reached out to Cotton for additional comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Sen. Tom Cotton
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is one of two GOP congressmen who proposed legislation that would allow Americans to sue China's government for damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Alex Wong/Getty

The bill seeks to create a "narrow exception" specific to China and the pandemic for the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976, which provides the legal framework and guidelines needed to sue foreign governments in U.S. courts.

"We need to hold the Chinese government accountable for their malicious lies and coverup that allowed the coronavirus to spread across the world," Crenshaw said. "The communist regime expelled journalists, silenced whistleblowers, and withheld vital information that delayed the global response to the pandemic."

"Simply put: their actions cost American lives and livelihoods," he added. "This bill will help ensure China's actions are not without consequences."

Although Cotton and Crenshaw insist China is to blame for the rapid rise in U.S. infections, others have suggested that the U.S. government's own response to the impending health crisis played a significant role.

Critics of President Donald Trump have noted that the president initially praised China's response to the virus, tweeting that "the United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency" on January 24, weeks after news of the Chinese government's alleged cover-up was revealed.

Trump also repeatedly compared the virus to the seasonal flu and insisted the U.S. situation was "under control" multiple times in January and February before going on to claim that the virus would disappear "like a miracle."

"I mean, think of it: The United States, because of what I did and what the administration did with China, we have 32 deaths at this point," Trump said at a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on March 12. "Other countries that are smaller countries have many, many deaths."

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the situation a pandemic on March 11 and it soon became clear that U.S. cases were beginning to grow at an alarming rate. Not long after, the president and many of his allies began referring to the virus as "the China virus."

On Tuesday Trump blocked U.S. funding for the WHO, which he has called "China-centric," claiming they responded poorly to the emerging health threat. The same day, his re-election campaign sent an email to supporters urging them to donate to "give President Trump the necessary funds to hold China accountable."