WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats on the new House committee on China hope their panel can be a rare haven of bipartisanship for the next two years on issues like military threats, economic competitiveness and human rights.
But even before the select committee holds its first hearing, in prime time at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday, the panel is being tested by current events and partisan distractions that are threatening to upend the delicate partnership between the parties.
President Joe Biden’s decision to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon days after it was spotted in U.S. airspace amped up tensions between the two nations and handed Republicans ample ammunition to attack the commander in chief as soft on China and failing to protect Americans from foreign surveillance.
Reports recently emerged that the Energy Department concluded, with “low confidence,” that the Covid-19 pandemic “likely” originated from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China, prompting China committee Chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., to call on Biden to “declassify all the relevant intelligence” about Covid’s origins.
And in a Sunday show appearance, both Gallagher and the China panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, had to spend time condemning Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, for questioning the loyalty of Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress and the head of the Asian caucus on Capitol Hill.
“The more that we can focus on the facts, the better off we are in understanding the nature of the challenges that we face and what are the next steps that we need to take,” Krishnamoorthi said in an interview Monday.
“I was very pleased that Chairman Gallagher condemned the offensive remarks questioning Judy Chu’s loyalty because he knows, as I do, any kind of stereotyping or xenophobia has no place in a serious discussion about the challenges” from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Krishnamoorthi continued.
“And the only people who would want us to devolve into partisanship or stereotyping or xenophobia is the CCP itself. We can’t go there, so let’s focus on the facts.”
Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi are trying to set a bipartisan tone during their first hearing Tuesday, inviting four witnesses who are respected on both sides of the aisle.
They include two Trump White House officials — former national security adviser H.R. McMaster and former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger — both of whom publicly criticized Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Pottinger, who was working in the White House that day, resigned after the deadly riot and later testified before the select House Jan. 6 committee that the attack undermined national security and America’s standing in the world.
In addition to military threats from Beijing, the 24-member China panel also will be examining human rights abuses by the CCP, as well as ways for the U.S. to build on the CHIPS and Science Act, the legislation passed by Congress last year that promotes domestic semiconductor manufacturing.
The panel will also hear from Tong Yi, a Chinese human rights advocate who served as an assistant to one of China’s most well-known political dissidents; and Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which is backed by top U.S. manufacturers and the United Steelworkers.
These witnesses “match the seriousness with which Speaker McCarthy and Leader Jeffries chose the members of the committee and the set of challenges that we need to deal with as a committee,” Krishnamoorthi said.
The Illinois Democrat said other news stories related to China will almost certainly arise in the coming months and years, some of which will fall within the jurisdiction of the China panel, while other issues will be tackled by other committees. For example, Krishnamoorthi said, the new select Oversight subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic will follow up on the Energy Department’s classified report on the origins of Covid.
However, that didn’t stop Gallagher from issuing his own statement Monday calling for the Biden administration to declassify intelligence related to the pandemic’s origins and to impose sanctions on the CCP and its affiliated scientists until it allows an international investigation into the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“As evidence clearly mounts in favor of the lab leak hypothesis, the American people deserve complete transparency from the federal government on the origins of COVID-19,” Gallagher said. “That means this administration must declassify all the relevant intelligence — protecting for sources and methods — surrounding the pandemic’s origins, and provide information as to who was advising the members of the Intelligence Community who have dismissed or downplayed the concept of a lab leak.”
Other federal agencies have pointed to the natural transmission from an infected animal as the cause of Covid, while the U.S. intelligence community remains split on the question.
Kyle Stewart contributed.