Republicans sharpen knives for China with eye on House majority
House Republicans plan to put sharp scrutiny on China next year if they win the majority, including establishing a select committee to take on Beijing on a range of economic and military issues.
And while much of the their agenda consists of aggressively investigating the Biden administration and pushing partisan priorities, Republicans are hopeful that work on China and the select committee will be a largely bipartisan, non-adversarial venture that has lasting impacts in tackling a generational challenge.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), a member of the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees, said that there is “huge opportunity in divided government” to get “bipartisan work” done on China.
Creating a China select committee has been a longtime goal of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who tried to work with Democrats to create one in 2020.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Republicans say, pulled Democrats out of a planned China panel the day before the original launch date that February, around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Washington Post reported at the time that Democrats had concerns about the China issue being too politicized.
After plans for a bipartisan group crumbled, McCarthy organized a House GOP China “task force,” led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Despite the task force lacking Democratic participation, McCarthy flaunted to Roll Call later that year that “more than 60 percent of the ideas are bipartisan.” A select committee would be a continuation of that effort.
Some proposals from members on the GOP’s China task force were included in a $280 billion bill to boost domestic chip manufacturing industry and fund scientific research that was passed and signed into law earlier this year. House Republican leaders whipped against the final version of the bill, however, over larger political and tax objections.
“This really isn’t just a military effort, or even a whole-of-government effort,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), but an “all-of-society effort.”
Waltz said he has experienced good bipartisan working relationships with Democrats when working on China policy that has a national security focus. But he is not certain that would be the case on some domestic issues related to the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — or for members who do not have access to classified information about Chinese threats.
“I just don’t know the appreciation, for example, of some Democrats that are on Ed and Labor [House Education and Labor Committee], and are they concerned about the amount of CCP-backed money flowing into university endowments? Or the number of university students who will get a visa to come to here on a liberal arts degree, and then switch their major to nanotechnology while here? And there’s no provision within our visa law to really kind of capture that,” Waltz said.
“There were kind of so many disparate, uncoordinated efforts going on that the task force really pulled a lot of that together,” said Waltz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who was also on the task force.
Specific plans and focus for the select committee are in deliberation and may change depending on who is selected to be on it, but a person familiar with the plans expects it to put a large focus on domestic, economic and tech issues. Some standing committees with access to classified information take the lead on matters of hard military power.
Boosting U.S. competition with China in the tech space, the CCP’s influence in American universities and Beijing’s purchase of agricultural land in the U.S. are all possible areas of focus for a select committee, which is expected to collaborate with standing panels. McCarthy said in a September radio interview that he envisions the select committee focusing on China’s control of critical minerals, its theft of U.S. technology and its fraught relationship with Taiwan.
“A select committee on China could go a long way towards coordinating policy across the many committee jurisdictions and thereby create a more coherent approach to our China policy,” said Gallagher, the Wisconsin congressman, adding that it might also focus on human rights issues and “ideological warfare.”
Both Gallagher and Waltz said that they are interested in looking at policy moves to incentivize rather than mandate the decoupling of supply chains that are too dependent on China.
“This will be won or lost economically way before it is militarily,” Waltz said.
GOP focus on Taiwan will extend far beyond the planned select committee.
On the House Foreign Affairs Committee, likely to be chaired by McCaul in a GOP majority, weapons sales to Taiwan will be a large focus for Republicans, particularly with the Russian invasion of Ukraine stoking fears about a Beijing attack on the island.
“There’s a whole series of things you can do when it comes to hard power and deterrence over Taiwan,” Gallagher said.
McCaul has also called for a 90-day review of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security and whether it is adequately enforcing compliance rules relating to trade and national security.
Rep. James Comer (Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, plans to use his committee to dig into the origins of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, China, with an eye on the theory that the virus originated in a lab.
China is also a top concern for the House Intelligence Committee.
“We know the Chinese Communist Party continues to invest and develop cyber, space, biological and nuclear weapons. Our members will continue to work with our Intelligence Community as well as our Congressional colleagues to best address these threats,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member on the Intelligence panel, said in a statement.