House GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19

House GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19
© Greg Nash

Members of a new House GOP task force on China are vowing their investigation will go beyond COVID-19 and include probes into a host of issues creating tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The fledgling task force — led by Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse passes legislation to crack down on business with companies that utilize China's forced labor House Republicans blame Chinese cover-up for coronavirus pandemic Engel subpoenas US global media chief Michael Pack MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee — will look into topics ranging from supply chain and national security concerns to human rights violations and China’s growing influence on the world stage, in addition to early missteps with the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

Task force leaders have already discussed with a senior Trump administration official “how best to work together on this,” according to a senior staffer with knowledge of the talks. Panel members said they expect to receive classified briefings before publishing their findings in October, just before Election Day.

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE and his administration have made China a political punching bag in the 2020 campaign, particularly as the pandemic ravages the U.S. economy.

McCaul said the need for a broad congressional inquiry into China’s behavior is long overdue, and the country’s response to the deadly virus should serve as a wake-up call.

“I think most people woke up after COVID-19 hit with a realization they had no idea that we’re so dependent on China for medical supplies and of course the technology coming out of there,” he told The Hill in an interview. “We’re also really looking into the military posturing of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to ideology and how can we compete better with China.”

House leaders initially planned to launch a bipartisan China task force this year, but Democrats later opted out, positioning the committee to proceed solely with a GOP focus.

That could prove beneficial for the party as congressional races and the presidential campaign kick into high gear, when candidates from both parties tend to talk tough on China.

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Polls consistently show Americans are wary of China. A Pew Research Center survey published last month found that 66 percent of Americans have a negative view of China.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a member of the task force and one of the most vocal China hawks in Congress, argued Democrats’ decision to back out of the committee was more politically motivated than Republicans’ decision to move forward without them.

“The fact that they’re turning a blind eye to the China threat can only be chalked up to politics with the election in six months, and frankly, I think it’s a foolish political move on their part,” Banks said.

Democrats say that even though they aren’t participating in the task force, they’re still focused on working across the aisle on China policy.

“China continues to be a focus for our caucus and our committees of jurisdiction are working on policies related to China, including combating Chinese disinformation, U.S. competitiveness in light of increasing competition from China and U.S. defense and national security challenges in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations,” a senior Democratic aide said.

In addition to McCaul and Banks, the task force consists of House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power Graham vows GOP will accept election results after Trump comments Liz Cheney promises peaceful transfer of power: 'Fundamental to the survival of our Republic' MORE (Wyo.) and Reps. Andy BarrAndy BarrReclaiming the American Dream Powell, Mnuchin stress limits of current emergency lending programs McConnell holds 12-point lead over Democratic challenger McGrath: poll MORE (Ky.), John Curtis (Utah), Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherGovernment watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position Hillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations Lawmakers introduce bill designating billion to secure state and local IT systems MORE (Wis.), Anthony GonzalezAnthony GonzalezHillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll House passes legislation to boost election security research Ex-NFL receiver Rep. Anthony Gonzalez: Big Ten skipping football season could be 'catastrophic' for athletes MORE (Ohio), John JoyceJohn JoyceJudge halts Trump campaign's mail-voting lawsuit against Pennsylvania The Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks Hillicon Valley: Livestreaming service Twitch suspends Trump account | Reddit updates hate speech policy, bans subreddits including The_Donald | India bans TikTok MORE (Pa.), Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerFox News reporter defends confirming Atlantic piece despite Trump backlash: 'I feel very confident' GOP lawmaker defends Fox reporter after Trump calls for her firing Lindsey Graham: 'QAnon is bats--- crazy' MORE (Ill.), Darin LaHoodDarin McKay LaHoodAmerica can't afford to ignore the food service distribution industry On The Money: McConnell previews GOP coronavirus bill | Senate panel advances Trump Fed nominee who recently supported gold standard | Economists warn about scaled-back unemployment benefits Bipartisan bill introduced to provide tax credit to food and beverage distributors MORE (Ill.), Guy ReschenthalerGuy ReschenthalerSafe, responsible casino gaming supports state economies at crucial time Judge halts Trump campaign's mail-voting lawsuit against Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers raise questions about WHO's coronavirus timeline MORE (Pa.), Denver RigglemanDenver RigglemanVirginians wait up to four hours to cast early voting ballots Five things we learned from this year's primaries The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - First lady casts Trump as fighter for the 'forgotten' MORE (Va.), Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikRepublicans cast Trump as best choice for women The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Pence rips Biden as radical risk GOP women offer personal testimonials on Trump MORE (N.Y.), Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartAtlanta Wendy's 911 call the night of Rayshard Brooks's death released Tyler Perry offers to pay for funeral of Rayshard Brooks Current, former NHL players form diversity coalition to fight intolerance in hockey MORE (Utah) and Mike Waltz (Fla.). The lawmakers sit on 11 different committees with jurisdiction over China policy.

Gonzalez, a freshman lawmaker who’s a member of the Financial Services Committee, said the task force plans to take a hard look at “how they’ve operated on the international stage.”

Part of that focus, he said, will be on China’s global influence, and how the world’s second largest economy is looking to rival the U.S.

China’s leadership over the past two decades “has been characterized primarily by a refusal to abide by any of the agreements that they sign up for” and “a commitment to undermine the international institutions in the international world order, and to displace the United States, and insert them as the leader of the world,” said Gonzalez.

But the two countries have been working together recently, namely on a trade deal that has seen China buying more U.S. agricultural products. Trump signed the first phase of a massive trade agreement with China in mid-January, though the timeline for phase two is unclear as tensions have escalated between Washington and Beijing over the pandemic.

While the early days of the coronavirus outbreak will certainly be a significant component of the task force’s work, members are aiming to highlight other areas of concern, and how they think those issues should be tackled.

The panel plans to craft an extensive report on policy recommendations and publish its findings by October, giving Republicans a potential campaign talking point.

“I think there are three categories we’re looking at: geopolitical, military and economic,” said Riggleman, a Russia and China threat expert from his time as an Air Force intelligence officer. “And then within those categories, you know, we look at what the most important things are — where has China been less than transparent as far as United States interests are concerned?”