Democratic lawmakers call on Republicans to apologize for 'bigoted' coronavirus language

WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats called on Republicans on Tuesday to apologize for language about the coronavirus the Democratic lawmakers slammed as “bigoted.”

Earlier in the day, the House minority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., shared the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s page about the coronavirus, which has been named COVID-19, referring to it as the “Chinese coronavirus.”

Condemnation came quickly from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and House Democrats. 

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., who is the vice-chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, replied to McCarthy in a tweet, immediately calling his statement “hurtful,” adding that Asian Americans were “getting attacked bc of this exact type of rhetoric.” 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the statement “bigoted” and called on McCarthy to delete the tweet and apologize. 

In a statement, the chair of the Congressional Asian Caucus, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said “insisting on identifying the virus by region, as Leader McCarthy and Rep. (Paul) Gosar have done, only creates fear and hostility.”

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., self-quarantined himself two days ago after announcing he had come in contact with a person who had been diagnosed with the “Wuhan Virus.” 

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., the co-chair of the Native American Caucus, all called on Gosar and McCarthy to apologize as well. 

Tuesday evening, McCarthy responded to Democrats’ criticism in a tweet, writing, “Democrats are trying to score political points by calling Republicans racist.”

“Coronavirus is a China-born disease—made worse by a Communist Party that rejected America’s help to contain it,” he said, noting that some media outlets and Democrats had referred to the virus as a “Chinese coronavirus.” 

Experts have advised against referring to the new coronavirus with a location-specific name. The World Health Organization issued guidance in 2015 calling on media outlets, scientists and national authorities to avoid naming infectious diseases for locations to avoid stigmatizing groups of people. 

“This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected.” Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director general for health security, said at the time, citing how “certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities” or have other serious consequences. 

In response to a question from a Democratic lawmaker, CDC Director Robert Redfield said in testimony before a House appropriations panel Tuesday morning it was incorrect to describe the virus with a location,

“It’s absolutely wrong and inappropriate to call this the Chinese coronavirus – I assume you would agree with that,” asked Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., to which Redfield replied “yes,” adding the virus had spread through Iran, Italy, and South Korea as well. 

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