WASHINGTON -- As the coronavirus continues to grip the United States, some North Carolina lawmakers are pointing the finger of blame at the country home to the first major outbreak: China.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC, unveiled a multi-part plan Thursday taking aim at China over allegations they waited to sound the alarm on COVID-19. It calls for sanctions and an investigation in the Chinese government’s actions surrounding the outbreak, among other things.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated why we cannot trust the Chinese government,” he said in a video produced by his senate office. “Now we must hold the Chinese government accountable for causing the spread of COVID-19 by lying to the world about it.”

The rollout of the plan comes in the middle of an election year, when Tillis’s name is on the ballot.

Last month, Politico reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee had sent a strategy memo to GOP Senate campaigns. On the pandemic, the memo advised: “Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China.”

The day Tillis released his plan, his campaign announced a new ad push highlighting his China proposal. In addition to new digital ads, the campaign said they are selling bumper stickers that say “China Lied: Make Them Pay,” according to a rendering.

Tillis is not the only member of the North Carolina congressional delegation going after China.

For example, Rep. Mark Walker, R-6th District, recently introduced legislation that, among other things, bans Chinese firms from listing on U.S. stock exchanges.

“We’ve reached this place - maybe forced to reach a place - to look long term,” Walker said. “How do we protect our vital interest moving ahead?”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has labeled the push by Republicans and the White House to blame China a “diversion” from the health crisis in United States, a sentiment echoed by Rep. GK Butterfield, D-1st district.

“It’s a distraction to the main issue. The main issue is identifying Americans who have the virus, isolating them, and treating them, and finding a cure. That’s the challenge we have now,” Butterfield said. “Down the road, in years to come, we can analyze and investigate how the virus came to be. But right now we cannot get distracted.”