The White House on Friday took what appeared to be a thinly veiled attack at former President Trump, blaming a spike in anti-Asian violence and bias on rhetoric from “certain political leaders” — as it announced an initiative to combat the spike in violence.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, and the xenophobic rhetoric used by certain political leaders during this crisis, have led to a tragic spike in acts of anti-Asian bias, violence, and xenophobia,” the White House said in a fact sheet.
While it did not mention Trump by name, Democrats, including President Biden, criticized Trump last year for repeatedly referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus” or “Chinese virus” because it apparently originated in Wuhan, China.
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“Unfortunately, Donald Trump and his administration have failed to show almost any moral leadership when it comes to this issue,” Biden said in April of last year. “Indeed, Trump’s attempts to deflect responsibility away from his own failures in addressing this pandemic by calling the coronavirus the ‘Chinese Virus’ during the White House press briefings stoked feelings of hatred and anger toward” Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“The casual racism and regular xenophobia that we have seen from Trump and this administration is a national scourge,” he said.
Trump has brushed off those concerns and has kept using the phrase, including since leaving office.
“I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China Virus) Vaccine, that if I wasn’t President, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all,” he said in a March statement.
The apparent swipe at his predecessor comes as Biden is set to sign an Executive Order to establish a White House initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders that he says will drive an agenda to advance equity, justice and opportunity for those communities.
“Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) communities together constitute the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States and make invaluable contributions to our society, our economy, and our culture,” the White House wrote in its fact sheet. “Yet for far too long, systemic barriers to equity, justice, and opportunity have put the American dream out of reach for many AA and NHPI communities, and racism, nativism, and xenophobia against AA and NHPI communities continues to threaten safety and dignity of AA and NHPI families.”
The White House also touted other measures taken by Biden, including signing into law a bill targeting COVID-19 hate crimes, which makes grants available to help local law enforcement agencies improve their investigation, identification and reporting of incidents driven by bias, which often go underreported.
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Some conservatives have pushed back against the link between Trump’s rhetoric and anti-Asian violence, instead emphasizing moves by Democratic cities to defund police departments.
“This violence, by and large, is happening in Democrat-controlled cities,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said as the bill was being debated in the House. If “money wasn’t taken from police and they were allowed to do their jobs, we would probably be in an entirely different position.”
The initiative comes as there has been renewed discussion and scrutiny on the theory that the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
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The U.S. intelligence community said this week it is examining “all available evidence” and “aggressively” working to collect and analyze new information on the issue.
“The U.S. Intelligence Community does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially but has coalesced around two likely scenarios: either it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident,” Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Strategic Communications Amanda Schoch said in a statement Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.