President Trump’s criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) over her recent visit to San Francisco Chinatown has angered Asian American leaders already dealing with anti-Asian hate crimes connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a tweet on April 16, Trump showed a video of Pelosi in Chinatown on Feb. 24 and said, “Crazy Nancy Pelosi deleted this from her Twitter account. She wanted everyone to pack into Chinatown long after I closed the BORDER TO CHINA. Based on her statement, she is responsible for many deaths. She’s an incompetent, third-rate politician!”
Pelosi’s visit to Chinatown came three weeks before shelter-in-place restrictions were implemented in the Bay Area. Chinatown was suffering a drop in visitors because many people associated it with the virus, and Pelosi — accompanied by community leaders and local news crews — went there to help drum up business.
“To everyone, you should come to Chinatown,” she said. “Precautions have been taken by our city. We know there’s been a concern about tourism traveling all throughout the world, but we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come.”
Pelosi’s chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted that the video, which bears the logo of KPIX, the Bay Area CBS affiliate, was not deleted from the speaker’s account: “We never posted this video. It’s obviously local TV coverage of the speaker visiting Chinatown in San Francisco.”
At an April 13 coronavirus briefing, Trump quoted Pelosi as saying, “Let’s all have the big parade — Chinatown parade.”
During her visit, Pelosi did not say that. She mentioned that the parade — which had aleady been held on Feb. 8 — “was great.”
At an April 15 briefing, Trump further accused Pelosi of “trying to have, in San Francisco, parties in Chinatown, because she thought it would be great.”
During her visit, Pelosi didn’t mention parties but urged people to shop and dine in Chinatown.
Pelosi spokesperson Taylor Griffin said in a statement to NBC News, “Amid the unprecedented coronavirus public health crisis, the Asian American community is battling the pandemic on multiple fronts as their health, dignity and safety are under attack with the rise of anti-Asian racism. As she communicated during her visit to Chinatown three weeks prior to the shelter-in-place order, Speaker Pelosi remains staunchly committed to combating bigotry while ensuring the safety and economic well-being of the AAPI community in San Francisco and across our nation.”
In response to Trump’s tweet, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, tweeted, “We don’t have a border with China. Also, the fact that you can’t distinguish between China and Chinese AMERICANS puts Asian American lives at risk. Speaker Pelosi stood with the AAPI community as you were stoking xenophobia and downplaying the threat from coronavirus entirely.”
Chris Lu, former U.S. deputy secretary of labor and White House Cabinet secretary under President Obama, tweeted, “Most major U.S. cities have a Chinatown. Chiense Americans live there, as do Americans of all races and ethnicities. Only a racist would think a Chinatown is the same thing as China. And that’s what Trump is — a racist.”
Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang tweeted, “To Donald Trump, there’s NO DIFFERENCE between Chinatown and China. He doesn’t give a sh*t how many of us Asian Ameicans get hurt or killed if it means he can enrage his base enough to be re-elected. It’s going to get worse.”
Angry Asian Man blogger Phil Yu tweeted, “Trump really has no f—ing idea that there’s a difference between China … and Chinatown.”
Actor/activist George Takei tweeted, “Businesses in San Francisco Chinatown were suffering because many wrongly assumed Asian Americans were all COVID-19 carriers. Speaker Pelosi was standing up for her constituents to help fight this myth — one you continue to perpetuate because you are a racist POS.”
Pelosi’s daughter, political strategist Christine Pelosi, tweeted, “FACT: Chinatown is not in China
Stop the racism; rev up the testing!”
The New York-based Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund tweeted, “First, he said ‘Chinese virus’ and ignored the rise in hate violence against Asian Americans. Now th is. Was there a COVID-19 outbreak in any Chinatown? Does he know the difference between Chinatowns, which are in major U.S. cities, and China?”
Although Trump once stated that the Asian American community is not responsible for the pandemic, the frequent use of “Chinese virus” and Wuhan virus” by the president and other GOP leaders has been blamed for the anti-Asian incidents, which have been reported nationwide.
FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, listed inaccuracies in Trump’s claims about Speaker Pelosi and Chinatown, including the following:
“Trump also falsely said Pelosi visited Chinatown ‘to show that this thing doesn’t exist,’ referring to the novel coronavirus. Pelosi never suggested that it didn’t exist. She stressed the need for ‘prevention, prevention, prevention’ — urging people to be ‘concerned and vigilant,’ but not ‘afraid.’
“The president has raised Pelosi’s visit several times in recent days to counter criticism that he was slow to react to the coronavirus. He repeatedly mentions that he issued travel restrictions on China, which he did on Jan. 31. Meanwhile, he points out, the House speaker was urging people to go to Chinatown.
“Trump is mischaracterizing and exaggerating what she said during her visit. And while Trump did issue the travel restrictions … he also downplayed the danger of the virus in a series of remarks and tweets from Jan. 22 to March 10.
“The California Democrat’s visit to Chinatown came three weeks before six Bay Area counties implemented shelter-in-place restrictions. On the same day as Pelosi’s visit, Trump tweeted, ‘The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!’”
Noting that Trump and Pelosi had an adversarial relationship long before the current crisis, the report concluded, “Pelosi did visit Chinatown in late February in an effort to encourage people to go there to eat and shop. But she did not support parades or parties, try to show the coronavirus didn’t exist, or delete a tweet of her visit, as Trump claimed.”