SALEM— U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, is taking heat from his 6th District Democratic primary challengers and others on social media for cosponsoring a resolution condemning the Chinese government's handling of the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moulton is a lead co-sponsor with U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, of a resolution that condemns the Chinese government's "serious mistakes in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak." The resolutions claims things were worsened when China suppressed information about the disease, went after journalists, spread propaganda and blamed the U.S. military for the pandemic.
Critics say the resolution is mistimed and could create a backlash against Asian Americans during a pandemic in which there have been numerous reports of anti-Asian incidents and violence at a time when President Donald Trump insists on using the phrase "Chinese virus" to describe the novel coronavirus.
"This is not the time for an elected representative to be thinking about China," said Democratic primary challenger Jamie Zahlaway Belsito, in a statement. "The fight against this virus is right here."
"President Trump's failure to act when action was urgently needed has left thousands of American lives at risk," said Democratic challenger Angus McQuilken, also of Topsfield, in a statement. "This resolution won't save a single one of those lives, or put a single American back to work. It is simply a Republican attempt to distract, divide and promote xenophobia."
When reached, Rockport Democratic challenger D. Nathaniel Mulchay pointed to his statement and a letter he sent to members of Congress which he posted to Twitter.
"The resolution by 40 Republicans, joined by a sole Democrat, Rep. Seth Moulton, is not only racist and (xenophobic), it goes against the very recommendations of the (World Health Organization and the CDC who had determined any such statement would endanger the lives of Americans and anyone in the world who is of Asian descent," Mulchay.
In an interview, Moulton defended his decision to cosponsor the resolution as the only Democrat so far to sign it as of Wednesday.
Moulton said it's important to hold accountable authoritarian regimes "especially because it helps us hold President Trump accountable when he takes a page out of their playbook. If you look at what China has done here, starting this disinformation campaign, kicking out journalists, attacking minorities, these are all things Trump has done himself."
That includes spreading disinformation about the spread of the coronavirus and attacking reporters who ask tough questions, Moulton said. Trump, he added, is not doing enough to condemn assaults against Chinese Americans who came to the United States "because they believe our values, not the values of the Chinese Communist Party."
"Now is not the time for our representative to spend valuable time and energy assessing and assigning fault during the evolving coronavirus situation," Belsito said. "I would prefer to see Mr. Moulton focusing all of his energy on how to help constituents here at home, rather than grandstanding during a critical time of need," said Belsito, an advocate for better mental health services for women and families and a Salem State University trustee.
"Instead of focusing on the economic recovery bill, or holding the president's feet to the fire on his tragically slow response to the coronavirus, Seth Moulton is spending his time teaming up with House Republicans to provide cover to this president for his failures of leadership," said McQuilken, a cofounder of the Massachusetts Coalition to End Gun Violence.
Moulton said he shared his challengers' concerns about xenophobia long before he co-signed the resolution.
Moulton, a Marine Corps. veteran of the Iraq War, took exception to China blaming the U.S. military for the spread of the coronavirus.
The resolution states that the Chinese foreign minister claimed COVID-19 "originated in the United States and that the United States Army brought the virus to Wuhan to wage biological warfare on China."
"I'm always going to stand up for our troops when they are being blamed for something that they didn't do," Moulton said. He said he has not only received criticism online, but support from pro-Democracy advocates in China and Hong Kong.
Moulton said he spoke with U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-California, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who called him after he signed on to the resolution to express her concerns for Asian Americans.
"And, a number of colleagues who have reached out have said they don't disagree with anything in resolution, they're just expressed concerns about the time, but the facts are what they are," Moulton said.
"I have yet to receive a single complaint from anyone about any particular thing in the resolution," Moulton said.
According to Moulton's spokesman Tim Biba, Moulton has signed on to a resolution condemning anti-Asian sentiment and attacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution cites a rise in hate crimes against those of Asian descent, with a study showing more than 400 cases between Feb 9 and March 7 of this year.