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Republicans try for political leverage over China with bill allowing Americans to sue for ‘damage they caused’ with coronavirus

Republicans try for political leverage over China with bill allowing Americans to sue for ‘damage they caused’ with coronavirus
Republican officials Tom Cotton and Dan Crenshaw have introduced a bill sure to stir up tensions between the US and China that would allow American citizens to sue for ‘damages’ caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The senator from Arkansas and the representative from Texas, both vocal critics of the Chinese government, want to amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to create an exception for people to recover “damages caused by China’s dangerous handling of the Covid-19  outbreak.”

The Immunities Act protects foreign nations and their official agencies from being sued in US courts.

Cotton says China is an exception to the law because “by silencing doctors and journalists who tried to warn the world about the coronavirus, the Chinese Communist Party allowed the virus to spread quickly around the globe.”

Republicans and President Donald Trump barraged Beijing with criticism for being too slow to respond to the crisis and endangering the rest of the world, even hinting that the virus might have been created in a lab there. Cotton was one of the lawmakers who actively talked about this theory, although admitting there was no evidence.

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Although Cotton and Crenshaw say lawsuits from American citizens would allow them to “recover damages for death, injury, and economic harm caused by the Wuhan Virus," the goal of the bill is to get more leverage.

The lawmakers said the potential “private suits” could be dismissed if the country agrees to pay the US “damage it has caused.”

“If the United States and China come to an agreement to settle the claims, then the private suits could be dismissed. In other words, China can take responsibility and agree to pay for the damage it has caused, or it can face potentially millions of claims in federal court,” the lawmakers said in a joint announcement. 

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The legislation introduced could turn out to be a political nightmare marred down by grey areas in the law as it is modeled after the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act of 2016, which allows families affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks to sue countries they deemed responsible. That bill has faced uphill battles, especially when families sought to sue Saudi Arabia alleging the government had prior knowledge of the attack and included Al-Qaeda sympathizers and organizers.

President Barack Obama vetoed the lawsuit to prevent it from going forward, but Congress voted to override the veto for the first and only time during the former president’s time in office.

If the bill manages to get through the almost guaranteed bipartisan political hurdles, there is the potential for the legislation to grow, as the US has a history of similarly broadening laws targeting specific countries. 

The Magnitsky Act, for instance, was initially passed in 2012 to punish those considered to be behind Russian accountant Sergey Magnitsky's death in a Russian jail, but was expanded in 2016 to fight corruption and human rights violations on a global scale.

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