SALEM — Congressman Seth Moulton announced an about-face Thursday on his support for a resolution condemning China for its early handling of the COVID-19 pandemic which many said could stoke anti-Asian sentiment.
Moulton, a Salem Democrat who revealed Wednesday he was self-quarantined at home with symptoms of COVID-19, faced criticism for backing the resolution from friends, colleagues, those on social media and Democratic challengers for his 6th District seat.
"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," Mouton said on Twitter.
In a lengthier statement on Thursday afternoon, Moulton said he was withdrawing his support for the resolution, which he had co-sponsored with Indiana Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, and apologizing for it, given what he said was President Donald Trump's divisive language on the coronavirus outbreak that sought to lay the blame on China.
Moulton said this sentiment has only served to put Asian Americans in harm's way.
"I’ve heard this from many friends and colleagues, particularly members of the Asian-American community, who were hurt at a time when their community is under assault by racists in our own country. I apologize for that, and I am withdrawing my support for the resolution. As someone who has spoken in stark terms about racism in America and the dangerousness of Trump, the way the resolution has been used is unacceptable to me.
The three-term congressman said he focuses his work on national security issues as a reason he signed on, given China is the United States' "biggest geo-strategic threat." The former Marine Corps infantry officer who served four tours during the Iraq War was also troubled by the Chinese Communist Party's disinformation campaign blaming the U.S. military for the pandemic, and the ways it downplayed it initially.
Moulton said he thought it was "important to highlight the playbook that authoritarian governments like China use, so that we can also call out President Trump for using many of the same tactics here at home. Instead, the resolution has caused division, the substance overshadowed by President Trump’s divisive, xenophobic attempts to deflect from his administration’s abysmal response to this virus."
He said he also signed on in the spirit of bipartisanship in tackling a national security challenge. Moulton wound up being the lone Democratic co-sponsor.
"I had hoped this resolution would be an extension of our bipartisan work on the House Armed Services Committee, where we have focused a great deal of effort on China in a serious and substantive way. I know that many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not support the President’s racist rhetoric and are able to look at the issue of China through a substantive lens, and I will continue to try to find ways to work with them in the future. I will always stand up for our country and our troops."
Three Democratic primary challengers for the 6th District seat, Angus McQuilken and Jamie Zahlaway Belsito, both of Topsfield, and D. Nathaniel Mulchay of Rockport, condemned Moulton's support of the resolution for being ill-timed, the wrong priority to work on during the pandemic, and for the potential to spark a backlash against Asian Americans.
"We need a member of Congress with a clear sense of direction in this time of crisis, one who understands the implications of their actions," McQuilken said in a statement. "Every member of Congress should have been focused this week on saving lives and economic recovery. Instead, Seth Moulton was spending time supporting House Republicans as the leading and only Democratic sponsor of a resolution designed to promote xenophobia, and deflect attention from President Trump's failed leadership. We should expect a lot more from our member of Congress."
"The district is glad to see that the congressman has come around to addressing his mistake by being the only Democrat that supported a House Resolution focused on condemning China," Belsito said in a statement. "As we are seeing, the coronavirus situations continues to be dire," she said, saying the district needs "leadership on how we combat the coronavirus and its many effects here at home, not who we want to blame on it."
A message with left with Mulchay's campaign phone number seeking comment.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. Find us at 300 Rosewood Drive, Suite 107, Danvers, Mass.