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China threatens to sanction Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, other GOP lawmakers, over coronavirus criticism

Congressman Dan Crenshaw speaks to the public during the Policy Orientation 2020 event hold by Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin on Wednesday, January 22, 2020. (LOLA GOMEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN, TNS).

China has reportedly threatened to sanction a Houston congressman, Dan Crenshaw, who has pushed to let U.S. citizens sue the country for costs stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The freshman Republican is one of at least four U.S. politicians identified by China for “abusing litigation against China.” Each should expect “countermeasures that will make them feel the pain,” according to China’s Global Times, a news organization that is not an official mouthpiece for Beijing but is considered aligned with its views.

“So apparently I’m on the Chinese government’s radar now,” Crenshaw tweeted in response to the report Thursday. “Good. Bring it.”

The threat comes as Crenshaw tightens his relationship with President Donald Trump, traveling this weekend to Camp David with the president and several other lawmakers, as well as meeting with Trump last week at the White House.

The report doesn’t make it clear what the sanctions would entail. But Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, doesn’t list any business interests in China in his latest financial disclosure making the threat mainly a symbolic gesture.

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Countries occasionally impose sanctions on policymakers and legislators of an adversary, sometimes without teeth as a form of saber-rattling.

The U.S. itself has frozen bank accounts of individuals linked to Iran’s nuclear program, for instance, and it has imposed economic sanctions against North Korean leaders.

In 2014, Russia announced that it would bar the late Arizona Sen. John McCain and several other U.S. lawmakers from entering the country, as retaliation for U.S. economic sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

It’s unclear how China decided to target Crenshaw while ignoring others who have pushed similar measures to allow lawsuits against China, including two other Texas Republicans in Congress, Reps. Lance Gooden of Terrell and Ron Wright of Arlington.

The Global Times named Crenshaw and three other Republicans as targets: Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and  Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey. All have called for  legislation allowing Americans to sue China over the outbreak.

Two state attorneys general, also Republicans — Eric Schmitt of Missouri and Lynn Fitch of Mississippi — who have sued China to recover costs from the outbreak were also named.

On Thursday, Crenshaw and Cotton announced a bill to strip China of its sovereign immunity, which would let Americans sue China in federal court for medical and economic damages caused by the coronavirus.

“We need to hold the Chinese government accountable for their malicious lies and coverup that allowed the coronavirus to spread across the world,” Crenshaw said in a statement explaining the bill. “The communist regime expelled journalists, silenced whistleblowers, and withheld vital information that delayed the global response to the pandemic. Simply put: their actions cost American lives and livelihoods.”

President Trump has also expressed interest in demanding financial compensation from China. The administration is reportedly weighing retaliatory measures against China for the pandemic, including waiving its sovereign immunity.

Many of China’s targets are staunch Trump supporters, and have followed his lead in bashing China for the global outbreak.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 bars lawsuits against foreign countries, except in narrow circumstances including injury, death or economic hardship caused directly by harmful action taken by the government.

Critics call the threat of lawsuits against China a form of political theater during an election year.

The Global Times report named Gooden as a potential sanction target in the future.

Last month, he and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced a bill that would revoke sovereign immunity for countries that “whether intentionally or unintentionally…have discharged a biological agent.”

The first infections from the virus responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak were in Wuhan, China. Chinese authorities point to an exotic meat market as the most likely source. But speculation has also focused on a nearby lab that studies similar pathogens.

Experts say that the virus originated naturally and was not created in a lab.

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© 2020 The Dallas Morning News