Senate

Wyden blocks advancing Uyghur bill, Biden nominees over child tax credit

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Wednesday blocked a bipartisan effort to pass legislation aimed at countering China’s genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and confirm key Biden administration national security nominees, in an effort to extend an expiring child tax credit.

The Oregon lawmaker sought to pass an amendment to extend, for one year, a child tax credit that expires on Jan. 1, by attaching it to an offer by Republicans and Democrats to pass by unanimous consent legislation on China and confirmation for nominees.

But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) objected to Wyden’s call to attach the amendment to his unanimous consent request to pass his bill, legislation that would prohibit imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless companies could prove that the commodities or materials were made free of slave labor. 

The U.S. has determined that China is carrying out a genocide against the Uyghur Muslim minority population in Xinjiang, with slave labor being one of the human rights abuses alleged to be taking place.

Wyden said the two issues, the child tax credit and cracking down on forced labor, were not mutually exclusive and blasted Rubio’s objection as standing in the way of “two bold steps.” 

“There was another way we could have stood with the effort to deal with genocide and forced labor and protect families, they weren’t mutually exclusive, we could have done both,” Wyden argued forcefully on the Senate floor. “I think it’s unfortunate the Senate’s not doing it.”  

Rubio called the child tax credit extension controversial, with universal Republican opposition, and would delay the Uyghur bill — which passed the House Tuesday — from getting to the president’s desk. Rubio said adding the tax credit would require an additional vote in the House that couldn’t take place until mid-January. 

“At least 50 people here are against it, [it] cannot pass unanimously,” Rubio said of the child tax credit extension.

Wyden’s objection effectively killed an effort Wednesday night by Rubio and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to pass the Uyghur bill as well as confirm by unanimous consent at least three of President Biden’s nominees for senior State Department positions. 

Rubio had earlier blocked Biden’s nominees, including the nominee for ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, in an effort to advance his Uyghur bill. 

The compromise struck with Murphy was intended to put officials in place that could carry out the policy dictated in the Uyghur bill. This included Burns; Biden’s Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs, Ramin Toloui; and Rashad Hussain, Biden’s nominee for ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.

“Having an ambassador in China in place, having an Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, and having an ambassador working every single day on International Religious Freedom, hand in hand with this new legislation gives the tools and the legislative authority necessary to get the United States moving towards the right side of human rights in China,” Murphy said.

Wyden told The Hill afterward that he gave Rubio and Murphy a heads-up on his plans. 

Dozens of Biden’s nominees for the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Treasury Department are held up by Republican opposition under so-called “holds,” where a senator has the ability to slow-walk their confirmation process.

The use of “holds” has garnered outrage from Democrats and national security professionals who say the lack of Senate-confirmed leaders in top positions of foreign policy put national security at risk.

Jordain Carney contributed.

Tags Chris Murphy Joe Biden Marco Rubio Ron Wyden

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