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Chinese President Hu Jintao meets lawmakers, hears human rights concerns
"Given the state of the American economy, I would urge the National Museum of American History to do its very best to find American companies to manufacture the products that it sells," Sanders wrote to the director of the museum.
At the same time, some lawmakers have been careful to point out that China is a nation that offers tremendous economic opportunity.
"Engagement with China is important," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement. "As the world's second-largest economy, China's trade policy has a profound effect on the United States and on the world. President Hu's state visit gives the Obama administration the opportunity to seek substantial progress on a number of areas that are vital to our economy."
On Wednesday, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) praised a newly announced deal with a Chinese airline to create a trade hub in St. Louis, saying he looked forward to "increased agriculture and manufacturing job creation and economic development that this initiative will bring."
Still, it's clear that key players on Capitol Hill want a different, more forceful level of engagement than the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations deployed over 15 years. The Obama administration appears to be taking a more aggressive stance, openly focusing Wednesday on the need for more human freedoms in China even as President Obama pressed for progress on trade and nuclear proliferation issues.
"We can't afford to keep losing jobs and wealth because China manipulates its currency," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters during a conference call Monday.
Schumer, along with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), has led the effort at penalizing China for what they allege is intentional undervaluing of its currency, known officially as the renminbi but colloquially as the yuan. That makes its exports cheaper to sell here and drives up the cost of U.S. products in China.
One of his party's top strategists, Schumer now also runs the Senate Democratic message operation, suggesting that his decision to reintroduce the currency legislation as Hu arrived means he thinks it is a strong political posture for Democrats. He was joined on the call Monday by a pair of Democrats from Midwestern states whose manufacturing sectors have been devastated over the past decade, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Robert Casey (Pa.), both of whom face potentially tough reelection campaigns in 2012.
It's unclear what impact these lawmakers will have on the Obama administration's policy toward China. Pelosi, after all, has long been among the staunchest of critics toward Beijing, famously leading a protest in Tiananmen Square in 1991 just two years after the massacre there ended pro-democracy protests.
Regardless, these lawmakers believe that the political wind is at their backs and have every intention of making sure their voters back home know they are pushing the cause on Capitol Hill. In describing his currency proposal, Schumer said it sends a message to Beijing: "If you refuse to play by the rules, we will force you to do so."