House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will announce Thursday the formation of the GOP’s “China Task Force,” a committee of 15 Republican lawmakers representing 14 different committees of jurisdiction, to coordinate legislative strategy on all aspects of the China challenge. Republicans will use the body as a clearinghouse for ideas concerning China policy. They will use it to set priorities, pool information, coordinate approaches and devise tactics for actually getting bills passed into law.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore the need for a national strategy to deal with China. But the fact that the two political parties can’t get together is an ominous sign that partisan politics is prevailing over our national interest, which plays directly into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.
“All these issues existed prior to the virus and they just continue to grow in importance,” McCarthy told me during an interview. “The rest of America and the rest of the world has woken up to this and now we’ve got to do something about it.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, will serve as chairman. Its members will include several young Republicans who have been active on the China issue, including Reps. Mike Gallagher (Wis.), Jim Banks (Ind.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Elise Stefanik (N.Y.).
The original plan was to include a group of Democrats, as well. But the day before the original launch plan in February, the Democrats withdrew without explanation. McCarthy said Democrats were welcome to rejoin the project, but that the coronavirus pandemic has increased the urgency for Congress to get its act together on China.
“I’ve worked on this for more than a year,” McCarthy said, adding that he discussed it with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as far back as last June during their trip to France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“Everything was a go . . . but then they backed out,” he said. “I can’t explain why they wouldn’t do this [in February]. I can’t explain why after the virus they won’t do this. But we cannot wait anymore.”
The task force will hold meetings and briefings to get members on the same page regarding a host of China-related issues. The list includes China’s influence activities inside the United States, export control and foreign investment screening, efforts to take over international organizations, control over crucial supply chains, the organizational presence on American campuses, and economic aggression.
This is not the first attempt to bring lawmakers together on China. There’s the bipartisan U.S.-China Working Group, whose co-chair, Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), is on the new task force. But the idea is to bring the national security committees together with committees that deal with health, education, technology and business, all of whom are dealing with various pieces of the China puzzle.
The task force will also seek to tackle the issue of the Chinese government’s role in the origin and spread of the novel coronavirus that causes covid-19. That issue has become bitterly partisan in Congress. Republicans have introduced bills to assign blame to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Democrats are opposing them, accusing Republicans of distracting from President Trump’s coronavirus failures and encouraging racism against Asian Americans.
“Not only do we have to hold the CCP accountable for their role in the spread of coronavirus, the United States must take bold action to address the CCP’s malign agenda and better compete with China on the world stage,” McCaul told me. “This is the number one issue not only today but for the future.”
The offices of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) declined to comment, but several sources told me the Democrats backed away from the project in February because of a dispute between leadership and some members over who would be on the committee. Now, Democrats don’t want to join because they believe the China issue is just too politicized.
“We are very cognizant of the need to hold China accountable for its actions,” a senior Democratic aide told me. “But to the extent this is going to be the Trump administration’s scapegoat for its utter failure, we are not going to go along with that.”
Democrats have a point. Some Republicans, such as the president and his campaign, are abusing the China issue to advance their political agenda. But Democrats aren’t completely innocent of that, either. Regardless, all the reasons for getting everyone in the same room to define the realm of the possible in Congress remain. If Democrats have an alternate plan for raising the priority of the China issue and organizing a response, they are hiding it well.
Bipartisan cooperation on the China issue may well be impossible in an election year. But the challenges presented to our country by China’s actions — including its involvement in the pandemic — are not going away. At some point, Democrats and Republicans must both place these above their political interests.