U.S. Sen. John Cornyn draws rebuke for blaming coronavirus on China


U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) enters the hearing room before chairing a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to confirm five nominees to fill vacancies on federal courts in Texas, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. September 7, 2016. The candidates were nominated earlier this year after being recommended by Senators Cornyn and Ted Cruz (R-TX) to President Obama. (photo by Allison Shelley) Allison Shelley for The Texas Tribune

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn drew criticism Wednesday for saying on a conference call with reporters that it’s “no coincidence” that illnesses such as the novel coronavirus originate in China, putting the onus on “some of the cultural practices there.”

He doubled-down on his remarks during another interview later in the day, alluding to a now-debunked myth that the outbreak began after a woman ate bat soup; the states’ senior senator proceeded to incorrectly cite China as the birthplace of two previous outbreaks: the swine flu pandemic and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS.

“People eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that, these viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people and that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses,” Cornyn told a reporter on Wednesday, according to a video posted on Twitter by The Hill.

USA Today reported that the National Council of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders replied to the remarks in a tweet, “there are over 1M Asian Americans in your state. These are wildly irresponsible comments when anti asian hate crimes are on the rise.”

Cornyn’s comments also drew swift criticism from the two Democrats competing to challenge him in November, MJ Hegar and Royce West. Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot, tweeted that Texans “deserve better than racist dog whistles,” while West, the Dallas state senator, tweeted at Cornyn that his “focus should be on how to solve this crisis, not rhetoric and scapegoating.”

Still, when asked whether his comments could be seen as racist toward Asian-Americans, Cornyn implied that he didn’t see a correlation.

“We’re not talking about Asians,” he said. “We’re talking about China where these viruses emanate from which … created this pandemic.”

“China has been the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, like MERS and swine flu and now the coronavirus,” he said. “So I think they have a fundamental problem, and I don’t object to geographically identifying where it's coming from.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, swine flu was first detected in the United States in 2009. MERS, meanwhile, was first identified in Jordan in 2012.

His comments come hours after President Donald Trump defended calling the novel coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” ignoring increased criticism that the phrase is racist and anti-Chinese.

“It’s not racist at all,” Trump said, explaining his rationale to reporters. “It comes from China, that’s why.”

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.