As his House Democrat colleagues were arguing to the Senate why President Trump should be impeached, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) was watching with alarm tweets coming in from overseas about the coronavirus.
On January 31, in the midst of the impeachment trial, Banks compared the spread of the coronavirus to the Spanish flu.
Banks tweeted: “#Coronavirus is spreading as quickly as Spanish flu, which infected ~500 Million. And the #CCP is likely under-reporting cases. W/out reliable info, a pro-active response is needed. Quarantine is a good 1st step, @HHSGov.”
But most of his colleagues in the House and Senate were focused on impeachment. It was not even until ten days later — February 10 — that House impeachment manager and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) convened the committee’s first briefing on the coronavirus.
Banks said he had an idea that something was really wrong beginning in late December.
He was already tuned into threats from China as a member of the House Armed Services Committee and co-chair of its Future of Defense Task Force. He has also spent the last several years focused on the threat from Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and Chinese espionage on college campuses via their Confucius Institutes.
But he said he also follows a lot of anti-Chinese Communist Party figures on Twitter from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.
“So it was really in late December, early January, I started seeing a lot of Twitter activity by some of the sources that we follow about doctors being jailed for speaking out about the coronavirus threat, about journalists in China also being jailed, punished or disappearing altogether,” he told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview.
“Then following that activity led us in those early days to determine that this is a serious threat that America should take more seriously than what we were at the moment,” he said.
Schiff announced on Wednesday he would launch an investigation into “what went wrong” with the U.S. response.
Banks believes one problem was that Congress was focused entirely on impeachment as the coronavirus spread to the U.S.
The day House Democrats voted to pass articles of impeachment against Trump was the same day the first person to be diagnosed with coronavirus in the U.S. arrived in the country — February 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) celebrated the vote with commemorative pens and urged Americans to tune in to a live feed of House impeachment managers bringing over the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
Banks told Breitbart:
When I initially tweeted about what we call the coronavirus or COVID-19, Congress was entirely focused on impeachment and the day that I tweeted, I think it was January 31st, likening this to the Spanish flu, that was the day that the Senate was voting on whether or not to have witnesses in the impeachment hearings.
A week or two later, when the president was in the heat of the Senate and the heat of the impeachment trial — that was the focus of almost everyone on Capitol Hill, which now in hindsight, we recognize that what we should have been focused on was this.
He said Congress was focused on impeachment “for the better part of six months” leading up to the president’s acquittal.
“That took the focus away from everything else that mattered, from our nation’s fiscal health, our nation’s economic health, to our national security interest, and in this case, it prevented us from addressing what will go down in history as one of the largest pandemics and national crises that we’ve ever had in the United States of America,” he added.
Banks lamented that China has now become a partisan issue simply because Trump has blamed China for trying to hide the discovery of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, and allowing it to spread to the rest of the world.
He said Democrats are not interested in holding China accountable, as it would put them on the same side as the president.
Banks experienced this personally when he introduced a bill condemning China’s early mishandling of the coronavirus and Democrat colleague Rep. Seth Moulton (MA) was forced by fellow Democrats to withdraw his support for the bill.
Democrats claimed the bill could incite racism towards Asian-Americans.
“What’s become painfully clear to me is that once again House Democrat leadership is far more interested in attacking President Trump than they are in addressing the real threat at hand,” Banks said.
“I’m old enough to remember when Nancy Pelosi was a China hawk, but today she’s no longer that,” he said. “Today…she’s far more interested in attacking President Donald Trump and playing footsie with China than holding China accountable for what they’re putting our country through at this moment.”
Banks’ bill also condemns China for its human rights abuses and treatment of the Uyghur Muslims who have been placed in internment camps. He said it now has close to 50 cosponsors — none of them Democrats.
Meanwhile, 131 Democrats have backed a bill by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) that condemns “all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID–19.”
“Democrats are far more interested in throwing around dangerous rhetoric about it being racist to tackle the China threat and far more interested in attacking the president than they are confronting China,” Banks said.
“I don’t know how any member of the House Armed Services Committee sits through an open or classified hearing and could ever walk away and not recognize that China is the greatest existential threat that America faces today and for the generation to come,” he added.
Banks said his constituents — Americans from the Rust Belt who understand the China threat economically — are demanding that he do everything he can to hold China accountable.
He said there is plenty of work ahead. For example, the U.S. should disentangle its supply chain — especially its medical supply chain — from China. Congress could also restrict the Department of Veterans Affairs, the largest health care network in the world, from purchasing its medical equipment from China.
He said the president should find ways to repatriate the cost of coronavirus by forcing China to forgive large amounts of U.S. national debt or by instituting tariffs.
“China should shoulder the blame both morally and fiscally for the fiscal cost of the coronavirus in the United States of America,” he said. “We could use funding from tariffs to create some kind of a coronavirus victim relief fund.”
However, he said, so far Pelosi had refused to allow such legislation to be considered.
“They don’t want to address this issue because it confirms that President Trump has been right all along. President Trump is the toughest president in my lifetime on China, who [has] refused to take the failed path of all the presidents before him in seeking to appease China,” he said.
“It’s sad that this is becoming a partisan issue. Addressing the China threat shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.