Politics

EXCLUSIVE: Focused On The China Threat, This Congressman Became Aware Of Coronavirus Dangers Early On

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Mary Margaret Olohan Social Issues Reporter
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  • Republican Indiana Rep. Jim Banks warned of the impending coronavirus pandemic days as far back as January. 
  • The lawmaker credited his foresight to his ongoing focus on China’s human rights violations and the country’s pattern of misinformation and propaganda. 
  • Banks said that rather than focusing on holding China accountable or focusing on the coronavirus pandemic, Democrats are “far more interested” in attacking and embarrassing President Donald Trump. 

Republican Indiana Rep. Jim Banks warned of the looming coronavirus pandemic days before his fellow lawmakers began taking the virus seriously, he told the Daily Caller News Foundation in and exclusive interview.

He credited his foresight to his ongoing focus on China as a threat to national security — an area that he said other lawmakers would do well to focus on.

The Indiana representative has been “deeply interested in China” for the past couple years due to his status as a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Republican co-chair of the Future of Defense Task Force, he told the DCNF.

“We’ve been working very specifically on addressing our military and building a military that can confront the China threat for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The more Banks worked on China-related issues, from Huawei to the rise of China’s Navy and military, the more figures he began to encounter on Twitter who were discussing the rising dangers of the coronavirus. Banks paid close attention to their reports.

“Back in January, we started seeing a lot of traffic on Twitter from anti-CCP figures and both Hong Kong and in mainland China,” he said. “That’s where we started seeing reports of doctors being jailed for speaking out about the virus and Wu Han. We started seeing journalists jailed and even disappearing for speaking out about the spread of COVID-19.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping learns about the hospital's operations, treatment of patients, protection for medical workers and scientific research at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China March 10, 2020. Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via REUTERS

Chinese President Xi Jinping learns about the hospital’s operations, treatment of patients, protection for medical workers and scientific research at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China March 10, 2020. Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via REUTERS

He first drew attention to the pandemic, which has more than 4,000 people in the United States, in January. He highlighted an Israeli biological war expert’s theory that the coronavirus may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory linked to China’s “covert biological weapons program” in a Jan. 27 tweet.

“We floated that tweet as a message to other leaders on the Hill and the administration about what we could potentially be facing,” Banks said.

He added: “Now we know so much more. In hindsight, we know now that unfortunately we were right.” (RELATED: How Should Congress Continue To Govern During The Coronavirus Pandemic? Here’s What The Experts Say)

Banks also compared the coronavirus to the Spanish flu several days later on Jan. 31, the day HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared the coronavirus a public health emergency and ordered that all U.S. citizens returning from China quarantine for two weeks. Banks noted that the Communist Party of China (CCP) is “likely under-reporting cases.”

At the time, the Indiana congressman did not realize he was drawing attention to the impending virus earlier than others were. Now he said he wishes that “we would have beat the drum even louder” and called on his “colleagues and the administration to do more about it.”

Banks said that if more lawmakers had focused their attention on China and China’s pattern of misinformation and propaganda, the United States might not be in its coronavirus trajectory. The White House coronavirus task force anticipates the United States will suffer between 100,000 to 200,000 deaths from the virus before the pandemic ends.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has been following China’s actions, their misinformation campaign, their propaganda, apparatus and effort, that we would see many of the actions that we’ve seen come out of China,” Banks said.

The lawmaker cited China’s “malfeasance and mismanagement, disregard for the truth” as examples of this, and noted how China blocked “U.S. and worldwide health officials from coming in to study the virus way back in January that Robert O’Brien, the national security advisor, says has cost us two months in our own response.”

Banks also pointed out that reports were made public Wednesday showing that China has been lying about their containment of COVID-19 in recent days.

“This type of disinformation and propaganda is what many of us have become fully aware of,” he added.

Last week, Banks and Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton led a group of GOP lawmakers in offering a resolution that condemns the Chinese government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese propaganda around the virus, and the way in which China has censored doctors and journalists.

He received a “fair amount” of backlash for his efforts, he said.

Rather than focusing on the pandemic or holding China accountable for the country’s negligence, Democrats “appear to be far more interested” in attacking and embarrassing President Donald Trump, Banks said.

Banks said it’s startling that China has all of a sudden become a partisan issue as Americans suffer from the coronavirus.

“It shouldn’t be that way,” he said.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the daily coronavirus task force briefing in the Brady Briefing room at the White House on March 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. The top government scientists battling the coronavirus estimated on Tuesday that the virus could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. Trump warned that there will be a “Very, very painful two weeks” ahead as the nation continues to grapple with the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 31: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the daily coronavirus task force briefing in the Brady Briefing room at the White House on March 31, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“I don’t know how anyone, Republican or Democrat, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, could walk away from the hearings that we have that are both public and classified and not recognize the significance of the China threat now and on the horizon for some time to come,” he said.

Democrats are willing to “turn a blind eye” to both the China threat and to China’s negligence, he said — and this is due to their “stronger desire to attack President Trump rather than to address the real threat at hand.”

Banks said he can’t imagine any president in modern times managing the coronavirus response better than Trump has, and he points to Trump’s approval ratings as a testament to the president’s handling of the virus.

“His approval ratings rising show that the American people trust this president. They believe that he’s doing all that he can,” Banks said. “It doesn’t mean that there won’t be lessons that we learn when we get beyond this as we look in the rear view mirror.”

“And we should learn lessons from all this, but the president has done what he can with the resources and tools that he has his disposal to address this national crisis,” he added.

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