Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) are bringing the iron first of justice down on officials who disseminated false information about the coronavirus — so long as they hail from other countries.
The ‘”Li Wenliang Global 5 Public Health Accountability Act of 2020,” named for the Chinese doctor who raised the alarm about the severity of the disease before dying of it himself, authorizes sanctions on countries that “deliberately concealed or distorted information” about international public health emergencies.
The legislation seems targeted at China, where the coronavirus outbreak originated. The U.S. intelligence community has reportedly concluded that Chinese officials hid the extent of the crisis. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), joined by five other Republicans, introduced similar legislation in the House on Tuesday.
Luckily for some of Hawley’s and Cotton’s peers, the legislation only applies to officials in other countries.
One section of the bill specifically names as liable for punishment an official who “financially benefits from acts intended to deliberately conceal or distort information about a public health emergency of international concern, including coronavirus disease 2019.”
The FBI has reached out to at least one lawmaker, per CNN, after media reports revealed that Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) unloaded between $628,000 and $1.7 million in stocks while receiving private briefings about the outbreak as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The optics of the situation were worsened when NPR unearthed that he’d described the disease as much more dire when speaking with members of an exclusive social club than he had in public statements.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) has also come under fire for selling stocks worth between $1.275 million and $3.1 million between late January and mid-February. She and her husband bought stocks worth between $450,000 and $1 million, including one software company that has shot up in value due to its teleworking technology. To the public, she downplayed the severity of the disease and echoed President Donald Trump’s response.
Burr said that he made his sales based on public reports; Loeffler said that third-party managers control investment decisions on behalf of her and her husband.
Alongside the senators, Trump himself has engendered widespread criticism for dismissing the severity of the pandemic for weeks.
Despite the blind eye towards possible distortion of the pandemic by Americans, Republicans aren’t the only ones seeking to punish China for its lack of candor.
Last week, the bipartisan team of Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) introduced a nonbinding resolution to censure China for making “multiple, serious mistakes” in its response to the outbreak, including muzzling medial professionals and booting journalists from the country. The resolution also called on Chinese officials to publicly acknowledge that the disease originated there.
Moulton ultimately stripped his name from the resolution, apologizing “particularly to members of the Asian-American community” who felt targeted by the legislation.
When I signed onto H.Res.907, I did so because it is important to recognize and condemn the CCP’s authoritarian tactics. Instead, it has been used to create division, as the president’s xenophobia stokes racism across the country. For that reason, I am withdrawing my support. pic.twitter.com/3vT3qQvgc9
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) March 26, 2020