In April, U.S. Rep Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) made headlines when he cosponsored legislation that would allow Americans to sue China in federal court to recover damages incurred as a result of COVID-19. The measure is known as the “Holding the Chinese Communist Party Accountable for Infecting Americans Act of 2020.”
Crenshaw, who co-sponsored the legislation with Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), said it’s intended to hold China accountable for withholding and concealing information about the virus in its early days, which allowed it to spread to the U.S. and other parts of the world. Noting that Americans would “find somebody to sue,” he suggests that China is the most logical person to compensate Americans for illness and death from COVID-19.
“We need to hold the Chinese government accountable for their malicious lies and cover-up that allowed the coronavirus to spread across the world. 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. This bill will help ensure China’s actions are not without consequences,” Crenshaw said in a press release announcing the bill.
The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 bars lawsuits against foreign countries, except in cases of injury, death, or economic hardship directly caused by a foreign government. Crenshaw argues that China’s action to suppress information and continue allowing travel to and from Wuhan qualify as exceptions to this act.
The legislation is modeled after the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which unanimously passed the House and Senate in 2016 and allows victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families to sue foreign countries that are believed to have had a role in the attacks. The Holding the Chinese Communist Party Accountable for Infecting Americans Act of 2020 extends the same provisions to victims of COVID-19 and their families.
“In other words, China can take responsibility and agree to pay for the damage it has caused, or it can face potentially millions of claims in federal court,” according to the announcement from Crenshaw and Cotton.
Crenshaw is a first-term congressman representing Texas’s second congressional district, which includes the northern and western parts of Houston. He is a former Navy SEAL who holds a Master of Public Administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has become one of the Trump administration’s strongest allies in the House.
Crenshaw’s bill is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House, but it did give him an opportunity to garner public support through media appearances, like this video from Bloomberg.
China responded to the announcement by threatening to sanction Crenshaw and other lawmakers who supported the bill.