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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 McCaulBiden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Hillicon Valley: Companies urge action at SolarWinds hearing | Facebook lifts Australian news ban | Biden to take action against Russia in 'weeks' Lawmakers to roll out legislation reorganizing State cyber office 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 TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills 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 CheneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J A-OK, Tanden in Trouble GOP leaders clash over Trump presence at CPAC Six ways to visualize a divided America MORE (Wyo.) and Reps. Andy BarrAndy BarrHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Energy issues rule allowing companies to develop own efficiency tests for products | GOP lawmakers push back on Federal Reserve's climate risk efforts GOP lawmakers push back on Federal Reserve's climate risk efforts MORE (Ky.), John Curtis (Utah), Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherLawmakers to roll out legislation reorganizing State cyber office House Republicans gear up for conference meeting amid party civil war Back to the future: America must renew its commitment to scientific inquiry MORE (Wis.), Anthony GonzalezAnthony GonzalezThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Tanden's odds plummet to lead OMB Republicans rally to keep Cheney in power Here are the GOP lawmakers censured by Republicans for impeaching Trump MORE (Ohio), John JoyceJohn JoyceBiden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (Pa.), Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerTucker Carlson bashes CNN, claims it's 'more destructive' than QAnon Six ways to visualize a divided America Kinzinger: GOP will 'be a minority party forever' if we keep supporting Trump MORE (Ill.), Darin LaHoodDarin McKay LaHoodRahm Emanuel predicts Trump will seek retribution against GOP opponents, won't run for reelection NRCC finance chair: Republicans who voted for Trump impeachment will not be penalized California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success MORE (Ill.), Guy ReschenthalerGuy ReschenthalerGOP lawmakers voice frustrations with McCarthy Tapper battles GOP lawmakers over criticism of Afghan vet's Electoral College vote READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (Pa.), Denver RigglemanDenver RigglemanEx-Trump press secretary criticized for stirring up QAnon on Twitter House GOP lawmaker unexpectedly shakes up Senate trial 'Trump in heels' emerges as problem for GOP in Virginia MORE (Va.), Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikCuomo job approval drops 6 points amid nursing home controversy: poll House Democrats request documents from DHS intelligence office about Jan. 6 attack Cuomo takes heat from all sides on nursing home scandal MORE (N.Y.), Chris StewartChris StewartGeorgia AG rejects prosecutor's request for Rayshard Brooks case to be reassigned House Republicans ask for briefing on threats keeping National Guard in DC READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results 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?”